A grieving teen who ended up in state care tragically took her own life after losing her father and brother in the same way months apart.
Rhianna Whittington, 16, was found dead in a public park not far from the government-run house where she lived in Whyalla, South Australia, on June 21, 2022.
Originally from Perth, the last two years of Rhianna’s life were filled with tragedy and heartbreak.
His father took his own life in May 2020, just two days after his 42nd birthday. Five months later, Rhianna’s 18-year-old older brother would also take his own life.
Authorities did not make Rhianna’s death public and said they did not want to cause further distress to the young people she lived with.
Rhianna Whittington, 16, was found dead in a public park not far from the government-run house where she lived in Whyalla, South Australia, in June 2022.
The teenager had the dates of her brother and father’s deaths on her Facebook profile, writing: ‘rip dad 5/18/78-5/20/20′ and ‘rip bro 12/15/01-10/30/20’.
Rhianna had been in the care of the Department of Child Protection in South Australia for around six months before she died.
Social workers frequently reported her missing, saying she threatened to harm herself.
The 16-year-old attended Southern River Public School, south-west Perth, and Dianella Secondary School in the city’s northern suburbs.
Rhianna was remembered by friends on Facebook as ‘beautiful’ and ‘always loved’.
“This post breaks my heart, my first best friend, the person who claimed me in the beginning and now I have to say goodbye. Rest in peace, beautiful. I will always love you infinitely,” wrote a friend.
South Australian Minister for Child Protection Katrine Hildyard said the advertiser she was ‘immediately notified’ of Rhianna’s death.
She said her death was not made public “based on strong advice about the harm it would cause to the children and young people around her.”
Ms Hildyard said that before Rhianna died, she received regular updates on the efforts the department was making to support the teenager.
“DCP staff have built a strong relationship with her and are committed to doing everything they can to protect her from further harm,” he said.
“Despite all the supports in place and dedicated efforts to keep her safe, sadly this young woman decided to end her life.
“This shows the unpredictable nature of suicide and the devastating impact on those left behind.”
Rhianna’s death was not made public by authorities who say they did not want to cause further distress to the young people she lived with.
Ms Hildyard said she would “weigh” the implications of releasing more data on child deaths known to the Department of Child Protection, but would ultimately be bound by police requirements and family privacy.
Department of Child Protection executive director Jackie Bray said Rhianna had experienced “significant trauma” before entering state care.
Multiple agencies, including health, police, education and the DCP, have been involved in ‘intensive’ support efforts, Ms Bray said.
“Children and youth in care, who have suffered significant trauma, are especially vulnerable when they have a history of harm and neglect,” she said.
“Unfortunately, suicide can be unpredictable and, despite the fact that there are supports, tragically, it is not known exactly what may have been on a person’s mind at any particular time.”
SA Police have confirmed that Rhianna’s death is the subject of a forensic inquest.
His funeral was held in Ceduna, a town on the shores of Murat Bay in South Australia.
In 2021, there were 3,000 suicide deaths in Australia, an average of nine per day.
Suicide is the leading cause of suicide among Australian youth. More than a third of deaths in Australia between the ages of 15 and 24 were due to suicide in 2021.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.