Father of killed Chinchilla toddler speaks out

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that the following article contains images of the deceased.

THIS is the tragedy of a broken family caught up in the justice system, systemic racism, and substance abuse, while the Department of Child Safety struggled to keep up.

Wrapped in a plastic bin bag and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave, Kaydence Dawita Mills' body was found almost four years after her father first raised concerns with the Department of Child Safety about her wellbeing and whereabouts.

Once detectives started looking for her in late 2019, it took five months to find the missing two-year-old's body.

First raising the alarm with the Department of Child Safety in 2016, Kaydence's biological father, Robert Mills, 36, said he made multiple reports as he held grave concerns for her safety, although it is alleged she died a year later under horrific circumstances in 2017.

Mr Mills' former partner and Kaydence's mother Sinitta Tammy Dawita, 28, and her partner Tane Saul Destage, 40, were charged with murder, torture and interfering with the toddler's corpse on Monday, March 2, after her remains were found in a shallow grave at the Chinchilla Weir.

FOR KAYDENCE: Members of the public paid tribute to Kaydence Dawita Mills with a shrine at the Chinchilla Weir. Pic: Zoe Bell
FOR KAYDENCE: Members of the public paid tribute to Kaydence Dawita Mills with a shrine at the Chinchilla Weir. Pic: Zoe Bell

Detectives escalated their investigation when Kaydence's 12-year-old sister told a school counsellor in Mackay about her disappearance last September, according a relative. 

Mr Mills believes his repeated requests made to Child Safety about his daughter's wellbeing were not taken seriously because of his criminal past, and the colour of his daughters' skin.

Struggling to come to terms with his daughter's horrific death, Mr Mills said he was shattered to lay his little girl to rest, but was thankful to finally have her home.

"Thank god we got her body back," Mr Mills said.

"This is a train wreck, I have to bury her in (two) weeks… her body is up here in Innisfail now, we've just brought her up here."

As he plans the burial his little girl deserves, Mr Mills is determined to fight for a better system where this won't happen to another family and another child won't slip through the cracks.

"Complaints with Child Safety, I want them to take it more seriously," he said.

"No one has listened. No one took it seriously."

Complaints made to Child Safety

BORN into a chaotic home surrounded by drugs, intergenerational abuse, trauma and racial discrimination, Kaydence quickly found her way into the hands of Child Safety - before being given back to her mother, Dawita, in 2016.

For the past four years, Mr Mills said he had repeatedly tried to call to check in on Kaydence, but he began to worry about her welfare when all he was receiving were old photographs from Facebook.

BABY GIRL: Soon after Kaydence Dawita Mills was born at the Cairns Hospital. Pic: Supplied
BABY GIRL: Soon after Kaydence Dawita Mills was born at the Cairns Hospital. Pic: Supplied

"There's four documented (reports) since 2016, there'll be three official documented ones where I have ... spoken to Child Safety in regards to her safety and wellbeing, because there were no photos of her, there was nothing of her for all these years, I was just getting fed lies and I was getting suspicious," he said.

Mr Mills claims his numerous complaints to Child Safety weren't taken seriously because of his checkered history.

"Say you have a bit of a history with Child Safety or going to jail, you've made some wrongs in your life, once you have that they don't take you seriously," Mr Mills said.

"They don't listen if a parent's got a bad record, if they make a complaint about the other parent, they just discard it because he's jealous or whatever, drugs, what history they've got - they discriminate and now look, a little girl's dead.

"They said ... 'once a child is back with their biological parent out of Child Safety's care, the department's care, we are not bound by any legal law to investigate unless there is significant concerns of harm or danger to the child's wellbeing'."

Mr Mills believes race may have played a role in Kaydence falling through cracks in the system.

"I think it was swept under the carpet ... because she's of Indigenous descent," Mr Mills said.

TRAGEDY: Four-year-old Kaydence Dawita Mills.
TRAGEDY: Four-year-old Kaydence Dawita Mills.

Department of Child Safety response

A DEPARTMENT of Child Safety, Youth and Women spokeswoman said the State Government department was unable to comment on Kaydence's case due to legislation within The Child Protection Act.

"The Child Protection Act prevents us from commenting about individual cases," the spokeswoman said.

"This case is also subject to a police investigation and is subject to court proceedings and as such it would be inappropriate to comment.

"The safety and wellbeing of all Queensland children is a top priority and we are continually working to ensure the state's child protection system is as strong as it can be."

Child Safety is legally required to conduct internal systems reviews when a child known to them dies, although the spokeswoman said from July 1 a new review system was created.

No longer the Child Death Case Review Panel, the spokeswoman said, "from 1 July, this (process) will be undertaken by the new independent Child Death Review Board located within the Queensland Family and Child Commission".

State Parliament passed the new legislation so an independent body could review child deaths known to Child Safety, and also have the power to review external agencies such as health, education, community and justice services.

The spokeswoman said the new board had the authority to review past investigations.

Interrogated while in jail

SERVING a sentence at Lotus Glen Prison in far north Queensland for multiple driving offences, Mr Mills said his life was made a living hell not knowing the whereabouts or wellbeing of his daughter Kaydence after investigators first made contact with him late last year.

Sentenced in October 2016, Mr Mills said he served five months for three counts of disqualified driving, and one breach of probation.

The Dalby Criminal Investigation Branch began visiting Mr Mills in prison, after Kaydence's disappearance first came to the attention of authorities in October-November, 2019.

The investigation began after Kaydence's older sister spoke with a school guidance counsellor which prompted the backyard excavation of a Burbank St address in Chinchilla on December 3, 2019.

BACK YARD DIG: Investigators excavating the back yard of a Burbank St address in Chinchilla. Pic: Peta McEachern
BACK YARD DIG: Investigators excavating the back yard of a Burbank St address in Chinchilla. Pic: Peta McEachern

"They were originally ... ruling me out, and I gave them everything, I gave them my phone, every single thing and said 'please, I want to help'," he said.

Mr Mills said he was haunted by the conversations he had had with the officers investigating his daughter's whereabouts.

"I locked myself in my cell for a lot of the time during the investigation because I didn't know where she was," Mr Mills said.

"They're telling me, 'we have grave concerns for your daughter, Robert', but they're not telling me whether she's dead or where she is.

"I couldn't believe when I finally got told about my daughter, what had happened to her ... that was March 3.

"(After) they told me I rang up Child Safety and I said, 'look, I've been in jail ... every day wondering about the safety of my daughter. Everyday I've been wondering. Every minute of the day."

After being questioned regularly by detectives in prison, Mr Mills said he had been struggling mentally to come to terms with everything that has happened, especially how his little girl came to be "discarded like rubbish" found wrapped in a garbage bag in a shallow grave on the banks of the Condamine River.

BABY GIRL: Soon after Kaydence Dawita Mills was born at the Cairns Hospital. Pic: Supplied
BABY GIRL: Soon after Kaydence Dawita Mills was born at the Cairns Hospital. Pic: Supplied

Failed custody attempt

ON AUGUST 14, Kaydence would have turned six.

She was born at the Cairns Hospital on August 14 - although soon after her parents' relationship began to breakdown.

Mr Mills admitted he had made mistakes and ended up in jail for 12 months, which is when Dawita met Destage before moving to Chinchilla in 2016, with Kaydence.

That same year, Mr Mills said he was trying to regain custody of Kaydence after struggling with drug addiction, but before he could make the proper arrangements through Child Safety, Kaydence was gone.

"I said 'I want to get her, I'm going to get her, I've got all the certificates, I've nearly got a flat'," he recalls.

"(I just had to) tick off the last little boxes, I did a full rehab ... but she just took off."

That was when Mr Mills said he made his first official complaint to Child Safety, and the last complaint was made eight months before Kaydence's remains were found - he said dealing with Child Safety was "like running into a brick wall".

Slipping through the cracks

FOR years Mr Mills feared for the safety of his daughter, but his calls for help fell on deaf ears as Kaydence fell through the system's cracks.
Mr Mills said more needed to be done, the system needed to be better, so other innocent children don't have to go through the hell his little girl had to endure.
 

-The original version of this article stated Mr Mills received $10,000 from St Vincent's to go towards Kaydence's funeral, Mr Mills wanted to clarify that St Vincent's is in the process of helping him acquire funding through Victims of Crime Assistance. If funding is secured it will go directly to Blacks Funerals



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