A child goes missing and police wait six days before they tell anyone?
It’s not as uncommon as you think and if that child happens to be a foster child, it’s pretty much guaranteed.
As appalling as it may seem to our sense of justice, foster children are treated differently from other children.
Their parents have lost the right to care for them, and the people who take them into their homes have almost no rights at all.
Take the case of the missing Queensland girl, Tiahleigh Palmer, 12.
She was last seen on October 30, being dropped off at school.
Six days later, Queensland police decided to tell the public that she was missing and to perhaps keep an eye out for her.
Later that same day, her body turned up on the banks of a river, so badly decomposed as to be almost unrecognisable. She had been stripped of her clothes and murdered.
Why the delay in raising the alarm?
Because foster kids are treated differently. Tiahleigh had run away from home before. Foster kids have a tendency to do that. She could be a bit of a handful. That comes with the territory, too.
But still … she was 12.
Her favourite colours were pink and purple.
Her backpack – still missing – had little flowers all over it.
The second reason it took so long is that Tiahleigh’s not white, and being a non-white foster child from a challenged background doesn't work in your favour, when you go missing.
Obviously that’s a controversial thing to say, but does anyone seriously believe that police would wait six days to alert the public to the fact that a 12-year-old white girl was missing from a good, middle-class home?
Not a chance.
Tiahleigh came from troubled circumstances, and so she was treated differently.
Queensland place have responded pretty defensively to questions from the media about why it took so long for them to raise the alarm.
They say they were checking with biological relatives, because it seemed reasonable to assume that she had gone there. They were also checking some of the places Tiahleigh had gone when she’d run away previously.
That’s fair enough, but it still doesn’t change the fact that had Tiahleigh been a) white; and b) living at home with her parents when she disappeared, an alert would have been raised much sooner.
Still, we can count ourselves lucky that we are at least able to know about this case, and that justice may yet be done.
Had Tiahleigh turned up dead in NSW, as opposed to Queensland, there’s a very good chance that the public wouldn’t be allowed to know anything about it.
It’s against the law to identify a dead child in NSW. It’s doubly illegal to identify a dead foster child.
Rest assured there are crimes against foster children in NSW that you never hear anything about, because of that ban.
Media organisations go to court all the time to fight for the right to tell you more, but they rarely - if ever - win.
It’s good to see Tiahleigh’s family taking a stand. They’ve set up a Facebook page in her honour, on which they say:
“We feel that had this been made more public more quickly, someone may have seen her and prevented this from happening.
“Remember not to judge any child/teen runaway or missing youth. Their background (and) family life is never as important as finding the person.
“Judgemental gossip only takes away precious time we could be spending finding these young people.
“Regardless of the reason why (they are missing) they need to be found as quickly as possible.”
Yes, they do. And treated like anyone else.