Several years ago, life in Alysia’s small community on the Queensland coast changed very suddenly. She had come to collect her daughter Ruby from childcare when two other parents approached her. A couple of boys had undressed and fondled Ruby in a secluded part of the childcare centre. The parents saw what they were doing and stepped in immediately to stop it. Ruby was four years old when it happened and the boys were five.
Alysia went to talk to Ellen Gibson, the principal of the centre. Yes it was true, Ellen said, but she regarded the behaviour as just young children being curious. She was not about to report it to anyone. Alysia was appalled. She asked if the centre was going to talk to the kids and educate them about inappropriate behaviour. Ellen said they had a program running already that was sufficient.
Alysia insisted that they had to report it as child sexual abuse. ‘But Ruby was laughing’, the centre staff told Alysia. Alysia was shaken. ‘They tied her legs together, they took her undies off. And this is just a child.’
Since that day, she said, Ruby has absolutely changed. ‘She’d been an absolutely calm child … she didn’t scream. Yet, since then, she screams. Like every day, anything goes wrong, she’s like, traumatised. Because, I don’t know … she couldn’t say anything then, maybe a sort of compensation?’
Ruby screams and cries when her siblings do something she doesn’t like. ‘It just gets out of hand. It has to be noted somehow.’
All communications broke down between Alysia and the childcare centre after their refusal to report the abuse. They didn’t get back to her about any changes in their procedure and they froze her out when she consulted other parents. They made it clear that Alysia was not welcome to go there anymore.
Alysia told the Commissioner she had half of her community attacking her, ‘like, “Tell us more”’. The other half were asking “What’s going to happen to the boys?” They were sort of looking at me as if I exposed them, even though I didn’t.’
Ruby had identified the boys who abused her but Alysia was careful not to reveal their names to anyone in the community. ‘They were five years old and we didn’t want the public just to tear them into pieces.’
Alysia did talk to other concerned parents about what they could do to educate local kids. ‘We need to do something as a community because our children don’t know the boundaries.’
Childcare centre staff didn’t attend the course – run by Bravehearts, the child protection advocacy group – that some of the parents then organised for the school. The incident with Ruby destroyed the ‘intimate’ connection between the childcare centre and the school, the only two institutions in the town that cared for kids.
Alysia and her family have moved away from that community and Ruby now goes to a different kindergarten. Alysia doesn’t know if the two boys abused anyone else. The childcare centre told her that if she ‘harassed or stalked the boys’ it would be ‘extremely unprofessional’. Alysia has since learned that the boys no longer go there.
Alysia reported the abuse to the police about a week after it happened. She also reported it to the Queensland Department of Child Safety. They told her that they were involved with the childcare centre but she doesn’t know the details because it would be ‘strictly confidential’. Nobody has contacted her since.
She said she’s very disturbed by the potential for kids in the area to be corrupted and abused and by the lack of relevant support services. The attitude of Ellen Gibson towards child protection worried her greatly. But she did see Bravehearts leaflets at the childcare centre when she had to drop children off there recently so she hopes something has changed.
‘If somebody could just let me how far they’ve progressed … it would be enough for me. Maybe they made the childcare centre do that Bravehearts program? … Maybe they went to specific training for the teachers … as long as something happened I’ll be happy.’