System ‘did not adequately protect’ teen who set himself alight: coroner

Kyle Sear.

A 16-year-old boy who set himself on fire was not given the support he needed by child protection authorities, a coroner’s inquest has found.

In her recentfindings, Coroner Jacqui Hawkins saida number of “missed opportunities”for interventionby child protection authorities potentiallyfailedKyle Sears, whodoused himself with petrol and set fire to his body in 2013.

However,she said she was unable to determine if authorities had adequately responded to and investigatedKyle’s circumstances, whether his death would have been prevented.

“…the child protection system did not adequately protect Kyle in his time of need and vulnerability,” her findings read.

Coroner Jacqui Hawkins

It was determined during the inquest Kyle’sdeath was not intentional.

Kyle, a teenager who experienced a traumatic childhood of neglect and abuse, died from burns to 90 per cent of his body after setting himself on fire in front of aBallarat man he had met over the internet.

Wayne Schefferle, 49, put the flames out with a hose and placed Kyle in a bath until ambulances arrived, it was in the bath Kyle asked “what have I done?”.

But despite a history of self harm, it was determined bythe inquest Kyle would not have understood the risks of what he was doing at the time.

Schefferlehad invited the 16-year-old to live with him in Ballarat after he was kicked out of his South Australian home following arguments with his family over their lack of support of his homosexuality.

The inquest heard conflicting evidence about the relationship between Schefferle and Kyle, despite Schefferledenying they were in a sexual relationship.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)Child Protection received a report which raised concerns over the living situation six months before Kyle died.

Three months after receiving the report the departmentinterviewedKyle, who told them he was not in a sexual relationship with Schefferle and that they were only friends living in a share house.

The inquest heard less than two months before Kyle’s death,Child Protection assessed there were no concerns that would warrant continued intervention and they ceased involvement with the teenager.

A month before Kyle’s deathhis case was closed.

A Child Protections operations manager from the West Division, on behalf of DHHS, told the inquest there was limited assessment made of Kyle.

The Child Protection operations manager told the inquest vital information about Kyle, his childhood experiences of abuse and neglect, his psychologicalhealth, risk of self-harming behaviours and engagement with services in South Australia did not form part of the risk assessment.

She also admitted the nature of Kyle’s relationship with Schefferle was not fully assessed during the investigations.

Coroner Hawkins said the “inadequate” investigations created a number of missed opportunities to support Kyle.

“Once Victoria Police were not able to establish and investigate a criminal offence, DHHS became the key agency who had the ability to protect and support Kyle and remove him from potential harm.”

She said if Kyle had been identified as high-risk it is possible he may have been linked in with a case worker who could have looked out for his needs.

But she conceded each individual and organisation who came into contact with Kyle did not have the full picture at any point in time and DHHS has since responded and implemented new investigationprocesses.

Western Victoria Primary Health Network CEO Jason Trethowan saidone in four young people will experience some form of mental health condition over their lifetime.

He said people experiencing mental health issues have a number of options in the community to help.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” he said.

“The healthy thing to do is talk to friends, family,neighbours,teachers or a general practitioner.

“It’s amazing how good we feel after that initial conversation.”

Mr Trethowan said discussions about mental health have become a normal part of society, with younger generations willing to speak more opening about the issue.

He encouraged anyone who believe they knowsomeone who may be suffering from a mental health condition to keep talking with them and help them seek professional help.

►Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline’s 24-hour telephone counselling service on13 11 14.

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