Tiahleigh Palmer was murdered by her foster carer Rick Thorburn in 2015.
Tiahleigh Palmer was murdered by her foster carer Rick Thorburn in 2015.

Tia’s legacy bears fruit for most vulnerable

REPORTS of missing teens have almost doubled in two years and police have attributed the spike to foster carers being more vigilant following the death of schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer.

The 12-year-old was murdered on October 30, 2015 by her foster father Rick Thorburn who has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Her death sparked the government review of out-of-home-care, When a Child Is Missing.

The review, released in 2016, made 29 recommendations including guidance and direction for agencies and foster carers to ensure timely action when a child in out-of-home-care is missing.

The increased vigilance as a result of the guideline changes has seen missing teen (aged 10-19) reports skyrocket from 3,049 in 2015 to 5,721 in 2017.

Even this year, until July 31, the numbers are on par with 2017 with police having followed-up more than 3,250 reports.

Missing Persons Units Det. Snr Sgt Damien Powell said carers and guardians are now more risk averse and swifter to report a missing child than they were prior to Tiahleigh's murder.

"They are all in the age group of under 18 and I can say pretty much all of them relate to children in care and the increased number is on the back of the Tiahleigh Palmer incident," Snr Sgt Powell said.

"There's a lot more vigilance and concern by carers and the Department of Child Safety around those issues.

"It's more a matter of vigilance with careers being more cautious and reporting them as soon as they leave the house."

Snr Sgt Powell cautioned that the higher number of reports did not mean more children had gone missing each year with some teens having been tracked down multiple times.

Despite the increase in reporting, Snr Sgt Powell said they maintained a perfect strike rate in locating wayward teens some of which simply "don't want to be in care".

"It's not unusual for a child in care to be reported multiple times in one week," Mr Powell said.

"We have children as young as eight and 10 reported missing 80 times in a year…and it's not always about being missing, it's not being where they are supposed to be.

"We have a 100 per cent recovery rate."

There has not just been an increase in the teens that have been reported missing over the past two years.

In 2017, there were 57 more cases of those aged 60 or older and 77 more missing reports in the 40-49 years-of-age bracket than in 2015.

He said the sooner a person was reported missing the better their chance of being located and that meant notifying police within the first 48 hours of their disappearance.

"The longer they are missing the greater our concern," Snr Sgt Powell said.

"We had a 68-year-old man reported missing this year despite not being seen since 2015.

"It's an incredible amount of man hours that go into it and it's a huge demand on services for the QPS, but our primary concern is their welfare and making sure they are safe and well."

Even if a person was located, it does not mean police will tell you where they are or how to contact them.

Snr Sgt Powell said there have been instances where police have had to tell spouses that their marriage was over or inform parents that their child does not want to have anything to do with them.

"We've had instances where we have had to tell the informant that their marriage has come to an end," he said.

"We try and break the news as subtle as we can."

He said the Queensland's Missing Persons unit was the only one in Australia that worked a seven day roster from 7am until 10pm.

"We are a part of the homicide investigation group because unfortunately a number of our persons each year are homicides," he said.

Minister for Child Safety Di Farmer said in the wake of the Tiahleigh checklists were developed as part of the new guidelines as a step-by-step guide to reporting a missing child to police.

"Carers are required to take immediate action to locate a missing child and to contact police, the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women and their support agency as soon as possible after all reasonable attempts to find the child have failed," Ms Farmer said.



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