‘When my son told me, I just went all blank and my heart just sank. I don’t know, I just wanted to scream. I just really wanted to scream out. I really wanted to go mad on them, because they did wrong to my son. My son, that I thought would be in safe hands.’
Abigail’s son Michael was taken from her and put into state care when he was about 11 years old. For the next few years he was shunted from one care home to the next, until finally ending up in a high-security home in the outer suburbs of Perth.
Not long after arriving at the home, Michael ran away. He was picked up by the police and brought back. He ran away again, and was brought back again. For weeks this pattern continued, with no one stopping to ask him why he was so desperate to escape.
One weekend, Michael came to visit his mother. As soon as Abigail saw him she knew that something was wrong and tried to get him to talk.
‘I always asked my son, “Are you alright? You alright? There’s something going on in that place”. He just says, “Yeah, I’m right, Mum”. But in the back of my head I always knew that he wasn’t.’
On the next visit, a few weeks later, Michael broke down and told Abigail that he had been sexually assaulted by one of the older boys at the home.
After she got over the shock, Abigail talked things through with Michael and got the full story. It turned out that Michael had tried to report the boy’s behaviour to staff but no one believed him. No one believed Abigail, either, when she told the story to the child welfare department and tried to get them to take action.
It was only after Michael’s abuser confessed that something was finally done. It wasn’t much. The boy was removed from the home for three weeks. Abigail isn’t sure what happened to him after that. She heard that the department started an inquiry, but they haven’t been keeping her in the loop so she doesn’t know how it’s progressing.
While all this was going on, Michael lived with Abigail. But after a short while, the department declared that he would have to go back to the home.
‘They said he has to go back there. That’s their rule. And I felt – I felt so small and so low and disgusted in myself because I took my son back there. He’s sitting in the car, shouting out to me, “No, Mum, I don’t want to go back there”.’
Michael stayed at the home for some weeks until eventually Abigail fought her way through the bureaucracy and got him back. He’s been living with her ever since. The situation hasn’t been easy. Michael struggles with his schooling and has some behavioural problems that occasionally land him in trouble with the police. ‘He’s got a temper on him.’ She said he gets frustrated when people don’t listen to him or believe him. Also, he’s afraid.
‘He’s so scared. I have to promise him all the time that he’s not going to go back to that home, never.’
Abigail knows she might have to fight hard to keep that promise. Michael is still officially a state ward, which means that if the department wished to they could remove him from her care. It’s a very real and immediate threat. Recently Abigail and Michael heard it straight from a police officer’s mouth.
‘She says, “Mum’s not the boss of you. We are. She’s got no say at the moment” … I held my tongue back. When she said that I held it back, and I was going to say “If you were so concerned and act as the boss of my son, where was you when this happened to my son?’”
Despite the department’s looming threat, Abigail is determined to keep her son safe.
‘I’m never going to let him go, not after what happened to him. Never.’