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How the system failed Tanilla

Tanilla Warrick-Deaves, 2, was murdered by her step-father Warren Ross. Ross has now been jailed for 40 years but her father and step-mother say more needs to be done.
Tanilla Warrick-Deaves, 2, was murdered by her step-father Warren Ross. Ross has now been jailed for 40 years but her father and step-mother say more needs to be done.

HIGHLY publicised criminal trials ensured Tanilla Warrick-Deaves' stepfather, Warren Ross, and her mother Donna Deaves were publicly shamed.

But as the couple made headlines across the country another case was slowly building behind closed doors.

Following Tanilla's death in her Central Coast home three years ago - the toddler was thrown against a shower wall and left unconscious in a pram for two days after suffering months of sustained torture - the NSW Department of Community Services conducted an internal review.

While much of the detail was never made public, it became known that more than 100 reports had been made against the family home Deaves had allowed Ross in to and at least 30 of those reports specifically concerned concerns for Tanilla's welfare.

The damning information prompted NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward to admit that there had obviously been a "misjudgement" at the Wyong DOCS office.

The court would later hear Ross made her run laps around the home and whipped her with a power cord if she wet herself - and Tanilla had unexplained bruises on her body

But for Tanilla's father Adrian Warrick and his partner Brooke Bowen that's not enough.

The couple carries the burden of wondering every day, "what if".

When Tanilla stayed with them at Ballina for the Christmas holidays in 2010 they knew something was wrong.

The court would later hear Ross made her run laps around the home and whipped her with a power cord if she wet herself - and Tanilla had unexplained bruises on her body.

Adrian Warrick
Adrian Warrick

A report was made to DOCS but at the end of the holiday, the couple who were struggling to make ends meet and had only recently lost their home, were made to allow her back to be with her mother.

Eight months later, they were watching a tiny pink coffin being lowered into the ground.

Ms Bowen says she and Mr Warrick live with deep regret, but there are caseworkers who need to share their guilt.

She is also the first to admit her partner is no saint.

Before his children were born he dabbled in drugs and heavy drinking and served time for an assault offence.

However, for Ms Bowen, the failure to remove the child from a volatile environment is unforgivable.

As she began sharing Tanilla's story through the media and online, Ms Bowen learned she was not alone.

For three years, a steady stream of past and present caseworkers have contacted Ms Bowen to tell her their stories.

As the case against Ross was finally closed yesterday, Ms Bowen prepared to take her campaign public.

With the support of more than 80 caseworkers and countless families, she will call for all reports made about Tanilla to be released and for a royal commission into the department.

"We have to live with the fact that we didn't fight harder for Tanilla - we were given the wrong information and we failed her," Ms Bowen said

"But this corrupt and broken system also failed her and until it is fixed the same thing will happen to other children.

"Tanilla will not become just another number.

"We are ready to make sure that never happens."

* The print version of this story mistakenly suggested that Adrian and Brooke had sent Tanilla back to her mother. To clarify, this was in fact at the ruling of DOCS.

Topics:  docs, tanilla warrick-deaves



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