Cassandra has a developmental disorder that makes social interaction challenging for her. She was a difficult and aggressive teenager, and at 13 wanted to live out of home, so she elected to go into care. She remained in residential care units for a period of three years.
Cassandra was accompanied to the Royal Commission by her mother, Lorraine, who told the Commissioner that she had wanted Cassandra to be placed into home-based care, as she felt residential care would not be good for her. ‘I cannot fathom the child protection system. It infuriates me when I think about it. Because it let Cassandra down so badly. It said that she was at risk with me, but placed her at risk.’
During the three years she was in care in Victoria in the 2010s, Cassandra was sexually assaulted four times. One of the perpetrators is now in jail and another is awaiting trial. Although Cassandra reported all of the assaults, the police told her there was not enough evidence for the other two to be investigated.
The first perpetrator was one of the staff members in the unit where Cassandra lived. He took her to his home and kept her there for eight days. Although other staff members knew where she was, they did nothing. Eventually, when Lorraine threated to go to the media, an intervention order was sought and charges were laid. Cassandra was then moved to another residential unit.
The second assault was by a co-resident, who climbed through her window as she slept. Although she reported the assault, Cassandra told the Commissioner that she doesn’t think the care workers believed her, ‘or if they did I don’t think they found it very like, they didn’t find a bad enough situation to do anything about it’. The offender remained in the residential unit for another three months and continually harassed Cassandra. When she complained to staff, they told her to stay in her room.
Lorraine told the Commissioner that after this second assault, Cassandra had suicidal thoughts. She also began cutting herself, resulting in scars that are still visible on her arms and legs.
The third assault occurred when Cassandra went with one of her co-residents to visit a friend of his. The two males held her down, cut off her underwear with a knife, and took turns assaulting her. Once again, even though Cassandra reported the assault, the resident remained in the unit. He continually taunted her by asking if her underwear was still at his friend’s place. Lorraine was furious that staff were aware that this boy had the same charges pending from a previous sexual assault, but did nothing to keep other residents safe from him.
When Cassandra was 14 she was introduced by a female co-resident to a man of 30. Cassandra told the Commissioner that she ‘ended up being in a relationship for two months’ with this man, until an intervention order was put in place. Cassandra then began lying to care workers about where she was going, but was eventually placed in secure welfare. When she got out, she went to visit her ‘boyfriend’ but she felt uncomfortable. On her second visit to his place, he sexually assaulted her. This man is now in jail and has been placed on the sex offenders register for life.
Lorraine had a constant battle with care workers during the three years Cassandra was in care. Staff in the residential units were ill-equipped to handle a child with Cassandra’s needs and this led, on more than one occasion, to Cassandra being arrested for reacting badly to the way staff dealt with her.
Lorraine told the Commissioner, ‘I don’t think any child with a disability should be placed in a general placement … because none of the workers were aware of the impact that had for Cassandra’.
Even though her care order stated that Cassandra had to go to school and counselling, staff told Lorraine they could not make her do anything. Cassandra told the Commissioner, ‘If I wanted to go out and get drunk I was allowed to. No one gave a crap’. Cassandra would frequently abscond from the residential units and ‘either go out and get drunk, go out smoke pot, or go out and do both. Like steal stuff’. When she or other residents came back to the residential care units with goods they had stolen from shops, staff did nothing.
Cassandra told the Commissioner that the assaults had a big impact on her behaviour. ‘I was completely different. Like I started – the first time it happened, I ended up started getting really aggressive and started getting arrested a lot and just doing stuff that I’ve never done before. I was a lot more angry. Like, one of my workers could turn around and say, you know, “You’re not allowed to do that” and I’d throw something at their head … It was really bad.’
Cassandra is now living at home, and is doing much better. ‘I’m such a completely different person now … Back then … I did what I did for a reason. I did what I did because I thought it was cool, and I did what I did because it was the only thing I wanted to do.’ She told the Commissioner that she has a job now and intends to train to become a residential care worker.