Lexie spoke to the Royal Commission on behalf of her three children, Olivia, Brittany and Kyle. Financial difficulties and housing uncertainty had placed Lexie and her husband under enormous strain in the late 2000s. Early the next year the children, then 12, nine and seven years old, were taken into care. The Western Australian Department of Child Protection (DCP) placed them with foster parents, David and Julia Baxter.
The placement seemed to go well for several months. Lexie had access to the children as she pulled her life together. ‘Olivia had come to stay with us on the weekend with the other two’, Lexie told the Commissioner. ‘My daughter was walking around with a phone worth over a 1000 dollars and I was like, “That’s a big gift”.’
As Lexie admired the phone she found a video of her youngest, Kyle, ‘humping’ a lounge at the Baxter house. David Baxter could be heard in the background egging Kyle on.
Lexie contacted their caseworker at the DCP and showed her the footage. ‘When DCP, Andrea Cuthbert saw it she said, “Oh, it’s just kids playing”. I said, “It’s inappropriate”.’
When she had another weekend with Olivia, Lexie again examined the mobile phone. ‘That’s when I found the text messages.’ First she saw a text from Olivia telling David Baxter to leave her alone. Then she found other intimate messages between the two. Lexie confronted Olivia. ‘I said, “What’s this about?” and she said, “What do you think, Mum?”’ Olivia revealed that she had been sexually abused by Baxter.
‘We’ve then gone to [the local] police station and straight away [the] police have pulled all three children out of care from the Baxters and he was arrested.’
Lexie speaks highly of the police response at that time. ‘They said, “There is no way those kids are going back to that house”.’ And she heaps praise on a detective who saw the case through. ‘He was there from the beginning – and even three, four years later he’s sitting there in court with me.’
Lexie had clashed with DCP caseworker Andrea Cuthbert before. ‘She actually threatened me in my house … I had a dislike for her … she said, “I can keep your kids in care until they’re 18”.’ But during David Baxter’s trial Lexie heard Olivia give evidence that she had disclosed the abuse to Cuthbert and others at the DCP many times. She had revealed that Baxter came to her room at night. The DCP had taken no action.
This was the first time Lexie had heard of her daughter’s prior disclosures. Lexie considers this a gross betrayal by the DCP. It makes her as angry as the sexual abuse did. ‘These people are protecting my children from me, but they’re not protecting them from their own workers.’
Her son Kyle has also spoken of abuse by Baxter and police have taken his statement. Baxter has not yet been charged over those matters.
Lexie also believes her second daughter Brittany was abused, but Brittany has not talked about it.
‘There’s a three-year window where she has no memory of even happy times. She’s blocked it out.’
Charged with the sexual assault of Olivia, David Baxter was found guilty. He was sent to prison. Lexie and her family were happy to see him locked up, but would have liked to see a longer sentence.
Meanwhile, Olivia, Brittany and Kyle have to deal with what has happened to them. Lexie reports that Olivia has problems with anger and is hard to live with now. ‘Believe me, I’ve got to fix a couple of walls and a door so far, ‘cause she gets angry. She’s pent up and she doesn’t know what to do.’ Kyle also had anger management problems when he hit high school, and both he and Brittany have struggled with their studies. They eventually switched schools and are ‘going great guns’ in their senior years.
Lexie believes staff at the Department of Child Protection need to be much better trained to respond to warning signs from children in their care and to listen properly.
‘What pisses me the most is the fact Child Protection knew something was going on in August, September and October – yet nothing was done.’
She suggests they develop a public mission statement. ‘I do believe that if kids do go into care that the parents should be given a booklet: “Child Protection is going to look after your kids. We will look for this, we will look for that, we will watch out for certain things. We will protect your kids as much as we can and make sure that when they say something to us … that these kids will actually be listened to.”’
‘In our day a child was seen but not heard. That was our day.’