Josh and Gabby came to the Commission to speak about four areas they felt needed reform: Family Day Care; the police; the court system; and the ‘most moribund’ of all - the criminal appeal system.
‘We’re only here because we want to make some change.’
Josh and Gabby were in disbelief when their four-year-old child, Alex, first disclosed an incident at family day care. However, after a second disclosure, they realised Alex had been sexually abused.
After they called the police, things happened very quickly. Gabby recalled the response of the sergeant they encountered when they went the next day to the police station. ‘He said, “These sorts of things, you’ll probably find it’s just better to let it go … Just move on”.’
He told them their child would forget about the abuse in a few years’ time, however Josh and Gabby insisted they were there to report a crime. Apart from this initial contact, police were really helpful.
The first police interview, with their young child at the police station, failed completely. Gabby and Josh had warned that it would. Ultimately, a successful interview was conducted at home, on video, with two female police officers. This video was used as evidence in court.
Josh and Gabby had great regard for the family day care model but now realise that it’s high risk. While it was great to have children looked after in someone’s home, they believed regulation is lacking and focusses on the suitability of the building. ‘Nothing to do with, are the children actually safe?’ They believed that since councils had outsourced regulation, it had become a rort.
At the time that Alex was disclosing, the carer was ‘showing me she got an A plus from the regulator’.
Leah and Anton Lalovich were the husband and wife team that ran the family day care. They denied the allegations against Anton. The case went to court and after a jury’s guilty verdict they appealed. After a second court case, the jury again delivered a guilty verdict.
The second trial was a very long process. The defence team tried to catch Josh and Gabby on trivial matters unrelated to the crime. It was like a memory test, they said. They were questioned about whether or not they had ever spoken to each other about it, which of course they had.
Further allegations had come forward in relation to other children at the same day care placement. Parents knew each other because they had children in the same primary school, and the defence team proposed that the parents had colluded against the accused, who continued to maintain his innocence.
Alex had first disclosed to Josh. Josh’s evidence was considered hearsay, because it was inconsistent with how Alex, still aged four, subsequently described the abuse. This was frustrating as it meant one of the charges was dropped. Josh said they didn’t coach Alex because they were told not to and yet the legal system didn’t allow for young children expressing things differently at different times.
Throughout the court process, Josh and Gabby found the allied support services associated with child protection brilliant, but chronically under-funded. They found these services provided the most assistance and believed they could be expanded. As Josh said, ‘They are living on … a tiny budget and love and passion and commitment’.
They found being around the court premises difficult because Lalovich and members of his family were also there – in court, in the lift, and in the toilets.
For various reasons the court process was often delayed. Lalovich was finally given a prison sentence, however he is once again appealing, this time on technical grounds. Josh described the appellate system as a ‘regulator gone feral’.
‘It completely lacks diversity’, Josh told the Commissioner. ‘All of them … were old, grey-haired men … It looked like a bunch of private school debating boys ... It’s a game. The appeal process is nothing to do with the crime. It is a game to use the nuances of language and precedent to get people off without reference to any voice of the victim or any element of the crime.’
As the case proceeds, the defence is arguing points of technicality such as the jury’s empanelment. Josh and Gabby have been informed that the appeal might be upheld. Having had a number of positive experiences during the criminal justice process, they feel terribly let down by the appellate system.
Despite having a positive attitude overall, Gabby said this news made her feel sick. ‘It just throws everything up because you know that on a technicality, through the debate, that it can all just be thrown back into the system again and then you have to go through the whole process. And in going through the whole process again it means that the finding could be different ... How many times, how many bites of that does [he] get? Is this going to go on forever? Like, do we ever get to a point in our lives where we go “It’s okay. Yes you chose to send your kids to family day care but now it’s done. And now we can move on?”’