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Lorelli's story

Bringing up children as a single parent was difficult for Lorelli, particularly because her son, David had Down syndrome and was very good at climbing up, over and through things to escape the house.

On one occasion while he was being babysat, David climbed through a window and took off. He was found, taken to a regional New South Wales police station; Lorelli was eventually identified as his mother and called to pick him up.

Arriving at the station, Lorelli felt uncomfortable about the attitude of officers; it seemed like she was being judged. She was interviewed by a Department of Community Services (DOCS) worker and, after describing her difficulties looking after David, respite care was offered. Lorelli accepted the offer and soon David was spending weekends at the respite care facility.

David’s first placement was in the early 2000s when he was seven. He went happily and ‘loved it’, but when it came time for subsequent visits, he became distressed as the car neared the facility. Later that year Lorelli received a phone call telling her that David had been sexually abused. She wasn’t provided with details about the event or offender, and David didn’t have enough speech to tell her who it was or what had happened.

Lorelli continued to make enquiries with DOCS about what had occurred, but it wasn’t until three years later that she found out the other party was a child aged under 10. She’d found this out by contacting staff from Legal Aid who assisted in making a Freedom of Information request. The file note indicated that David had been found naked in another boy’s room with the other boy lying on top of him.

Until then, Lorelli had thought the abuse had been perpetrated by a staff member and that DOCS were trying to protect the worker. She thought that’s why they hadn’t contacted her and outlined details of the incident, despite her repeated requests for information and support. She was told that a child under 10 couldn’t be charged with a criminal offence but felt frustration that the matter hadn’t been reported to NSW Police.

Lorelli told the Commissioner that she’d been seeing a counsellor after being diagnosed with depression. She attributed the onset of her depression to the time of the phone call from the respite facility, and was upset that she’d never received proper or adequate information from DOCS workers or senior management.

‘When the incident happened in the beginning, they didn’t even contact me … It even took them three years to even say, “Yeah, we have acknowledged it”. Why three years?’

Lorelli stopped David from going to respite care and became highly vigilant about his care. She wouldn’t let him go on school camps or to other activities where she felt he might be vulnerable. After the incident, David started wetting himself and developed other behavioural issues like banging his head and grinding his teeth.

With help from a law firm, Lorelli applied for victims compensation. However legislative changes meant that while David’s claim as a primary victim was successful, hers as a secondary victim could not proceed.

She remained angry at the way she’d been treated by DOCS staff and that it had taken so long to find out what had happened to David.

‘When this incident happened, they just didn’t use the right procedures. They didn’t respond at all. Not even for three years. And then after three years – six years later when I filed everything with my own, you know, effort, they still drag it along for another three years … And they brush me off.

'But who suffered in the long run? Me. And I’m the one that’s going to look after my son.’

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