Former Colleagues Give Insight into Workings and Character of Convicted Paedophile

By Emily Bourke
ABC - the World Today
September 19, 2013

TIM PALMER: The Aboriginal children's agency that employed the convicted child sex offender Stephen Larkins has come under intense scrutiny at the Royal Commission today. Former employees of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service, or HACS have been giving evidence to the national inquiry.

Larkins is in jail on child sex offences and the Royal Commission is examining how various agencies responded to allegations about his conduct. During today's hearings a former caseworker and chairperson of the service broke down and said she was angry about what Larkins had done to her and her community.

The World Today's Emily Bourke has been monitoring today's hearings and joins me now. Emily, what picture is the Royal Commission developing of the way in which Steven Larkins managed to stay in contact with children?

EMILY BOURKE: Basically, Tim, it went unchallenged. People took Larkins at his word and this seems to be the pattern

Today the Royal Commission heard from Jacqaline Henderson, a former caseworker, who then became a chairperson for Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service which was a welfare agency that looked after the out-of-home care or the foster care of vulnerable Aboriginal children.

Now in her role as caseworker information had come to her about Larkins. She had heard some rumours about him, about his past and allegations that he had abused a Boy Scout. Now she approached Larkins directly, asked him if there was any truth to it - did you interfere with boys in Scouts - and she said that became very agitated and angry and he shut the conversation down.

Now as far as his work... Larkins work at HACS was concerned, Jacqaline Henderson confirmed that he had direct and unsupervised access to children. Now this is important, because when Larkins applied for a Working with Children Check he declared on the application form that he had no such contact with his children; he didn't have that level of responsibility. So this document was clearly inaccurate.

Now, Jacqaline Henderson was asked today if she checked, she did any checking to see if Larkins had been cleared, she said "no". She didn't think it was her job as a caseworker to do that kind of thing. And she was then asked in her role as a chairperson, she said "no"; she assumed that it had been done and that it was all clear and okay.

Now Ms Henderson admitted that she didn't feel adequately equipped to do this job - that's the chairperson job - and during the hearing today she became extremely distressed about how the Larkins matter had affected her and the community.

JACQALINE HENDERSON: I take offence to personally what Steve has done... (emotionally) sorry... done to me and my community. He's used me as a goddamn puppet because of his dominance and I don't want to see this happen to anyone else.

TIM PALMER: The evidence there from Jacqaline Henderson, the former chairperson of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service.

Well, the hearings have also highlighted serious issues about that service itself, how it was running its operations and how that facilitated Larkins in being able to have children in his direct care?

EMILY BOURKE: Yes, yesterday, late yesterday we heard from the New South Wales Children's Guardian that HACS had become a deep concern. Its accreditation was under review because of governance issues, quality issues, standards - very little paperwork had been kept up to date. There were transparency concerns, no clear case plans for the children who'd come into its care, files weren't accurate. There were issues even with conflicts of interest.

Now Karen Barwick, who was hired by HACS as a special projects officer, it was her job to find potential foster carers - a difficult job she said - and she noted that she had concerns about how the organisation was running.

KAREN BARWICK: I think I was appalled that there were relatives on the committee.

GAIL FURNESS: Relatives of?

KAREN BARWICK: Steve Larkin.

GAIL FURNESS: Why did that appal you?

KAREN BARWICK: I guess in the sense, as an Aboriginal woman coming from communities where you see it happen continuously, it does distort you in the sense because then there's, it creates a power, I guess in a sense for anyone who's not within that community or that clique - that they're able to actually go and give information to and entrust that information, that the right thing will be done.

TIM PALMER: The evidence of Karen Barwick, another former employee at the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service. So have these former staff explained exactly what checks, or questions the staff at HACS raised?

EMILY BOURKE: Well under questioning by senior counsel Gail Furness, Jacqaline Henderson - who was, again, the former chairperson - explained that Larkins had parental responsibility and was an authorised carer for all of the children who were in HACS' care.

And when she became aware that children were visiting and staying at his home, she approached Larkins directly, but she said she did very little else - even though she had concerns that, about what was going on and she had contacts within the Department of Community Services and other agencies like the Commission for Children and Young People.

JACQALINE HENDERSON: I asked Steve and he said he had parental care of the children, and he did say that he had a child there as he was going through a hard time and I thought nothing of it.

GAIL FURNESS: Why was it a concern to you that he had children at his home?

JACQALINE HENDERSON: There was children going into his home and staying at his home more often than should have been.

GAIL FURNESS: What were you concerned about?

JACQALINE HENDERSON: It was the same children.

GAIL FURNESS: Given the knowledge you had, and to the fact that you knew Mr Larkins had parental responsibility for those children, why didn't you do more with the knowledge you had?

JACQALINE HENDERSON: I have no answer. I'm sorry. I don't know.

TIM PALMER: Didn't know. The evidence there of Jacqaline Henderson, again the former chairperson of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Service and before that you heard from our correspondent at the Royal Commission, Emily Bourke.


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