Cohen Fink’s family sue WA education minister after he took his own life, claim no help from school


Mum and dad of boy, 17, who took his own life SUE the education minister – claiming teachers ignored his disturbing exam notes

  • Grade 12 student and aspiring pilot Cohen Fink took his own life in 2019 
  • His parents claim his mid-year exams were an indication something was wrong 
  • He barely completed the important tests and scribbled doodles and messages 
  • They are now suing the education minister saying she failed in her duty of care  

The family of a teenage boy who took his own life in his final year of school is suing their state education minister, claiming the public school failed in its duty of care. 

Cohen Fink, 17, died on June 4, 2019, three days after he completed his mid-year exams at Warnbro Community High School in Perth‘s south, as he battled with anxiety and depression

His older brother Jaidyn, then 24, and sister Kylah, then 22, found him unconscious and desperately performed CPR as his father listened on the phone 1,000km away after he got a panicked call from his wife Pamela. 

The whole family has now lodged a writ of summons in the District Court claiming damages for psychiatric injury, nervous shock and loss caused by wrongful death, The West Australian reported. 

Cohen had previously struggled with his schoolwork but the family said only after he died did they discover his mid-year exams were left largely incomplete, the pages covered in doodles and strange messages. 

Cohen had dreams of becoming a pilot and first manned a plane when he was just 15 years old (pictured with his parents)

Cohen had dreams of becoming a pilot and first manned a plane when he was just 15 years old (pictured with his parents)

To one question on his chemistry paper, Cohen wrote: ‘Because I chose that as my answer so just deal with it. I don’t even care if I get it wrong because oh well. I already know I’m failing this test.’ 

His teachers had previously expressed concern about his answers to other teachers in emails but it is not known if this was escalated, with his parents claiming there was no communication with them. 

They only learned of his exam performance after battling to get documents under Freedom of Information laws. 

Their claim accuses Education Minister Sue Ellery of breaching her duty of care with the family alleging Cohen was not provided with mental health support at school. 

It also said her ‘agents’ – the staff at the school – allegedly failed to deliver an adequate response to mental health concerns disclosed by Cohen that were ‘otherwise evident’. 

'It was obvious he was in severe mental distress... He was coming home from his exams telling us that he thought he did okay... We had no idea,' his parents said of the exam papers

‘It was obvious he was in severe mental distress… He was coming home from his exams telling us that he thought he did okay… We had no idea,’ his parents said of the exam papers

Cohen's mid-year Grade 12 exams, some of the most important in high school, were barely completed and were covered in doodles and strange messages (pictured)

Cohen’s mid-year Grade 12 exams, some of the most important in high school, were barely completed and were covered in doodles and strange messages (pictured)

‘Both the family and I have grave concerns about their response to Cohen’s fairly obvious distress and calls for help,’ the family’s lawyer, negligence expert Julian Johnson told the paper. 

Cohen had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was seeing a psychologists outside of school for about a year beforehand.

‘If we had been told (about him not completing exams), we might have had the opportunity to be able to get Cohen the support he needed,’ Ms Fink said.

Cohen told his parents he thought the exams went ‘fine’. 

Despite his mental health struggles, Cohen was an active teenager.

He wanted to become a pilot after achieving his first solo flight at age 15 and joined the Air Force Cadets for two years.

He also had a girlfriend and successfully earned his P-plates less than a month before he died.

Cohen's father, Christian, penned an open letter to mark the one-year anniversary of his son's death describing the moment he realised something was terribly wrong

Cohen’s father, Christian, penned an open letter to mark the one-year anniversary of his son’s death describing the moment he realised something was terribly wrong 

Cohen's brother (left) performed CPR until an ambulance could arrive. Mr Fink was forced to listen over the phone as he made his way back from FIFO work

Cohen’s brother (left) performed CPR until an ambulance could arrive. Mr Fink was forced to listen over the phone as he made his way back from FIFO work

Cohen’s father, Christian, previously penned an incredibly raw open letter to mark the one-year anniversary of his son’s death, in which he re-lived the moment he received a phone call no parent ever wants to get.  

Christian was more than 1,000km away, working in the mines north of Leonora, in central Western Australia, as a fly-in-fly-out employee when his son died. 

After getting a panicked phone call from his wife, he called his son Jai who tearfully explained Cohen was missing and left a note. 

While still on the phone, Jai found Cohen unconscious in a shed attached to the garage and called triple-0 before performing CPR. 

‘I could hear every compression over the phone, and every breath that both my daughter and eldest son gave Cohen,’ Mr Fink said.

‘My daughter kept saying in a broken voice ”come on Cohen”, as my eldest son counted compressions, all whilst I was listening from 1,000km away’.

He was on the phone again when the doctor gave his family the terrible news that Cohen had not survived.

‘My legs just gave way. I was on the ground gasping for air… and I said to Kylah ”you and Jai did so good. I’m really proud of you two”,’ Mr Fink said. 

Cohen’s death coincided with his parents’ 24th wedding anniversary, and Mr Fink was on his way home to celebrate with his wife when he got the life changing call. 

The couple previously told Daily Mail Australia their son was ‘good and loyal and honest’.

‘He just had a calming presence, very determined and independent… I always said if you wanted the truth, you just had to ask Cohen.’

Cohen was honest and kind, and had dreams of becoming a pilot when he was old enough, his family told Daily Mail Australia

Cohen was honest and kind, and had dreams of becoming a pilot when he was old enough, his family told Daily Mail Australia

About 12 months before his death, the then-16-year-old started struggling at school and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

He saw a psychologist fortnightly right up until he passed away.

Following the diagnosis, his parents sent three emails to his school to explain his circumstances before a school official responded to them, promising to schedule him in with a counsellor.

His parents said it was ‘frustrating’ their disclosure was not taken more seriously by the school.  

Even after Cohen’s death, they felt the school could have done more. 

‘[Cohen]s cohort were told to use the long weekend, just three days after his death, to get over their grief for a fresh start the next week… It has been disappointing and only confounded to our grief.’

His parents previously pushed for a coronial inquiry but this was knocked back by the Supreme Court in February. 

His older sister stayed on the phone to her father and tried to get help from neighbours once they found Cohen (pictured, the siblings when they were toddlers)

His older sister stayed on the phone to her father and tried to get help from neighbours once they found Cohen (pictured, the siblings when they were toddlers)

His family believe the exam papers were a clear indication that his mental health was deteriorating - including the highlighted passage, which appears to be written backwards

His family believe the exam papers were a clear indication that his mental health was deteriorating – including the highlighted passage, which appears to be written backwards

A WA State Government spokesperson expressed their sympathy for the family but would not comment further. 

‘The loss of a young person in any circumstances is tragic, but because this matter is the subject of a legal process it would be inappropriate to comment further.’ 

Ms Ellery is on leave but stated in Parliament in 2021 that there were ‘gaps’ in communication between the school and Cohen’s parents both before and after his death.

‘I do think the school and the department could have done better. I am not sure we can go beyond that to say that that directly resulted in his death,’ Ms Ellery said.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800

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