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Report into disability service providers released

14 June 2017

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s Report of Case Study 41 - Institutional responses to allegations of the sexual abuse of children with disability, was released today.

This report follows a public hearing held in Sydney in July 2016 which examined responses of disability service providers Mater Dei School in Camden NSW, The Disability Trust, Interchange Shoalhaven and FSG Australia to allegations of child sexual abuse.  

Mater Dei

The Royal Commission examined allegations of sexual abuse against four students in the residential program at the Mater Dei School in the early 1990s, including three cases involving resident social educator, CID.

In one case, CID is alleged to have sexually abused 13-year-old student, CIB, causing her rectal hemorrhaging. The Royal Commission heard that Mater Dei’s principal at the time, Sue Dixon, informed police and NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) of the allegation. She also told CIB’s mother CIC that she had dismissed CID. However, Commissioners heard Mater Dei did not formally investigate the matter. They did not contact the family to check on CIB’s wellbeing despite CIB continuing her education at Mater Dei.

Some years later, two nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of Saint Benedict (the Order) visited CIB and her mother regarding the alleged abuse. The Royal Commission accepted that this visit was motivated by a desire to provide pastoral care, however found that a later request that CIC sign a document regarding matters discussed during this visit to be “disconcerting” for CIC and “inconsistent” with a pastoral approach. 

FSG Australia

The Royal Commission examined two separate allegations of child sexual abuse at Queensland-based provider of disability services for children, FSG Australia. One case involved Bobbie Welch, who was born with a number of medical conditions requiring 24/7 care, and started receiving respite care with FSG in 1983, at the age of one. Her mother, Maree Welch, believes Bobbie was sexually abused on 10 April 1995 by FSG carer, John O’Connor. In 1998 Bobbie’s further disclosures led Ms Welch to believe that Bobbie was raped by Mr O’Connor.

Maree Welch reported the allegations of sexual abuse to FSG in 1995 and 1998 and reported to police in 1998. The Royal Commission found that other than one interview with Mr O’Connor in April 1995, FSG did not investigate the allegation and offered no meaningful support to the Welch family after the complaint was made. In 1998 when Ms Welch wrote to FSG following up on her complaint, FSG sent letters via lawyers that the family found “threatening and intimidating”. The Royal Commission found that in 1998 FSG misrepresented its knowledge of the 1995 complaint.

The Royal Commission rejected the evidence of FSG Coordinator, Melissa Edwards, who described the 1995 complaint as a young person having a dislike for an alleged perpetrator, and found that in her signed statement, FSG Manager Dorothy Williams “minimised the seriousness of the complaint made to her”.

A second case involved CIJ, a young woman with high level special needs who received respite care at an FSG home and who in 2000 made a non-verbal disclosure of child sexual abuse to her mother, CIK. The Royal Commission accepted that a meeting in May 2000 where CIK raised the allegation with FSG senior staff was “intense” and an “interrogation”.

The Royal Commission found the belief held by FSG’s current CEO, Ms Vikki Batten, that no one at FSG would harm a child is of concern. Agencies responsible for overseeing FSG are encouraged to consider Ms Batten’s evidence before the Royal Commission.

The Disability Trust and Interchange Shoalhaven

The Royal Commission examined allegations of child sexual abuse against CIE, a child with moderate autism, by Royce Comber, a casual worker in various programs run by the Disability Trust, as well as a casual employee of Interchange Shoalhaven.

In March 2012, CIE returned from an outing with Mr Comber displaying distress and disclosed to his mother, CIF, that Mr Comber had “touched his willy” in the toilets. CIF’s husband then reported the matter to police.

After investigating the matter, Interchange reported a finding of “not sustained-insufficient evidence” to the Ombudsman. Interchange conducted a risk assessment and concluded that Mr Comber should no longer be employed. Commissioners heard that the Disability Trust’s CEO Margaret Bowen found the process of carrying out obligations to the Ombudsman under the NSW reportable conduct scheme “very hard for somebody without a background in investigation”.

Read the full report

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