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Dallas's story

The couple found the baby on the doorstep of their Melbourne home in 1990. They looked after him, hoping the mother would return to claim her son. After two weeks had passed this seemed unlikely, so they called the Department of Human Services.

Baby Dallas did spend some time with his mother again, but by age three he was a ward of the state and about to start 15 years of shuttling between his mother, 33 different foster homes and group homes, and the street. Dallas was sexually abused during at least two of the foster care placements.

Dallas’s wardship order was to the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), which were responsible for his care. His mother’s best friend and drinking partner, Virginia Trent, worked at VACCA, and Virginia managed his care arrangements.

Dallas does not believe this worked to his advantage. There were times when Virginia Trent became an adversary, when Dallas’s mother was looking for him. ‘She used to try and get in contact but because of their past history together [Trent] used to use that against my mum’, Dallas told the Commissioner, ‘so it’s like a conflict of interest’.

VACCA located a man they believed to be Dallas’s father. He often travelled in from the country to visit Dallas, who formed an attachment and was looking forward to going to live with this man. Again, Virginia Trent was behind this contact. ‘My mum kept telling them, “Listen, that’s not his dad, that’s not his dad”. Because they were best friends [Trent] obviously thought she knew who was who.’

The man proved not to be Dallas’s father and contact suddenly ceased. Dallas was devastated. ‘It shattered him just as much as it shattered me.’

As a six-year-old in care Dallas was sexually abused by a man, Wal Lambert, at a foster placement organised by VAACA in rural Victoria. Dallas did not report the abuse to anyone, but he believes Lambert was sent to jail on paedophilia charges based on other victims’ stories.

A few years later Dallas was living with foster carers in Melbourne’s east. Dallas was again assaulted by a man he knew as Uncle Alan. Alan Redcliff was an adult Koori man who lived at the foster house. He was well known in the Koori community. Redcliff would draw pictures on Dallas’s back while he was sexually abusing him. The abuse occurred almost every day for the 12 months of this placement. Redcliff would make his nephew visit him at the home, and Dallas later found out that this nephew was also being abused at the same time.

Dallas was struggling at primary school and around this time had a classroom aide appointed to help him with his work. This man, Steve Peters, sensed a change in Dallas. ‘He knew something was going on and he’d ask me questions, “Is everything alright?” I wouldn’t talk, I wouldn’t say nothing. I didn’t know how.’

Steve Peters stuck with Dallas and became the one highlight of his time with VACCA. As Dallas moved between schools, foster carers and group homes, and occasionally ran away and lived rough, Peters stayed as a counsellor and mentor for Dallas for over seven years, the one point of continuity for Dallas in a disrupted childhood. Dallas believes this was at Steve Peters’s own insistence. ‘Even though I was getting moved he made sure I was still seeing him.’ Dallas is grateful for that commitment from the youth worker.

After his wardship ended at 18 Dallas bumped into some Department of Human Services officers he knew in the street. ‘The only thing I’ve had from them is, “I’m surprised you’re still alive … we thought you would’ve been dead and long gone by the time you were 18”. And that’s from head office.’

Dallas had survived, but his education had been disrupted, he was distrustful of adults and he was already drinking heavily. He quickly got into trouble with the law and began spending time in jail.

While on remand Dallas was visited by an old family friend, Max. The friend wanted to ask him about his time living with Alan Redcliff. Redcliff’s nephew had reported his sexual abuse to the police and Max realised Dallas may have been a victim too.

‘He hit the nail on the head. He said, “You’ve been yelling out for help all your life … And now I know why”.’

Max urged Dallas to report Redcliff to police, if only to help the nephew’s case. Dallas did make a statement to a sexual assault unit, but there has been no follow up. Dallas wanted to forget about it and get on with his life, but now that he has children of his own being exposed to the foster care system, he is keen to see action taken.

‘Now I’m hearing what’s going on with my son it’s like it’s bringing back up my past and that’s the worst thing I’d ever wish upon my kids, that they’d grow up in my shoes.’

Dallas is hoping a psychologist can help him deal with his problems. ‘I was trying to be normal and just shut down, thinking I can’t, because of what happened. So I’ve got to act different to everyone else to feel better and the only way was to do crime.’

Dallas would like to learn to handle his problems so he can help his own children deal with foster care better than he did.

He would also like to see reform with the VACCA, where he believes conflicts of interest are built in. ‘It is mainly the officers, especially in the Indigenous ones because the majority of them are family, but they don’t want to hear that another family member’s done this, or they don’t believe it.’

Dallas believes that conflict of interest is leaving children in unsafe situations.

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