Mariel and Jayke's story

The O’Connor family – Mariel, Thomas and their son Jayke – wanted to foster children out of a genuine interest in helping those less fortunate. ‘You’re driven by a love of children and a want to change things. I know there’s people that are driven by financial benefits or whatever but they’re in a minority. The majority of carers I know are driven by a deep interest in making life better for someone else’, Mariel said.

The O’Connors did not have good experiences with the first few children the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) sent to live with them. The first child displayed highly sexualised behaviour, having come from an environment where their parent was a paedophile. The second child’s behaviour wasn’t much better.

Mariel said that these early experiences ‘significantly traumatised’ the young family and they made the decision that, in order to protect Jayke, they would not foster any children older than him or who displayed sexualised behaviour.

FACS then contacted the O’Connors to request they temporarily foster 14-year-old Andrew and his two-year-old sister Lisa. Jayke was nine at the time, so Mariel held firm that they would not foster any older children. However, Jayke said, ‘They wouldn’t take no for an answer. They wouldn’t let us say no to the placement. Mum said no three times and they kept calling’. Mariel eventually gave in and agreed to foster the siblings as an emergency respite.

‘Andrew was a very slight and small boy. He was portrayed to me as being immature and you would never guess, because my objection first was I don’t take children older than my son … But when they said they had this terrible situation with the little baby as well I thought there might be, you know, it was portrayed as fairly benign.’

When the children first arrived it was a happy mix. Mariel said that Andrew was ‘very, very nice … He and Jayke got on like a house on fire. They were playing PlayStation together, they were laughing, they were joking. Jayke was going “Mum, can we keep them? Can we keep them? I love them” … I now recognise that as grooming behaviour. I didn’t at the time’.

It didn’t take long before Mariel noticed something wasn’t quite right about Andrew. ‘He started doing things to Lisa, like putting his hand over her mouth and nose until she panicked like this and he would let go and laugh. And he would do lunging karate punches towards her face and stop right there. He had it carefully worked out so she would startle.’

One night, Jayke asked if Andrew and Lisa could sleep in his room. The O’Connors had an open door policy, and since there was a spare bunk bed they had no objection. Mariel noticed that, later that night, Jayke climbed into bed with her and Thomas, but she didn’t think anything of it.

Jayke had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder at a young age, and he was a spirited yet sensitive child. However, from around Year 9 onwards his demeanour changed and by Year 10 he was admitted to a mental health facility after a psychotic episode.

By Year 11 Jayke had become moody and withdrawn. He started self-harming, regularly smoking marijuana and even attempted suicide. It was during a discussion about child abuse in a Year 11 class that Jayke finally told the school counsellor what had happened to him.

The night the children had all slept in the same room, Andrew got into Jayke’s bed with a knife and raped him, threatening to kill him and his parents if he said anything. A few days later on a family day trip, Andrew assaulted Jayke a second time in a public toilet block.

‘What I noticed and what I felt from it is that it wasn’t like a release thing for him or anything like that. It wasn’t a sexual paedophilic thing, even though it was. I don’t think that was what drove him to do it. I just think he enjoyed hurting people. ‘Cause the way he treated his sister, his little sister who was with us, was very sadistic.’

After Jayke disclosed the abuse, the school counsellor immediately told Mariel and then family and community services. Mariel said, ‘I found out … that they had always suspected that there may have been trauma or sexual assault in his background, but despite all questioning he would never give it up’.

After disclosing the abuse, Jayke ‘went through a rollercoaster of suicide attempts and self-harm and self-loathing and all this sort of thing’. He said, ‘It’s changed me in a lot of ways, obviously not just the disclosure part, the whole thing. I’m not what I used to be’.

A psychiatrist has since ‘confirmed Jayke has significant PTSD as well as bipolar and anxiety disorders’ and the O’Connors have recently engaged a psychologist who is authorised to treat victims of crime. Mariel said, ‘He is coming good. He is better than he has been for a number of years, I think’.

In spite of reporting the incident immediately to FACS, the O’Connors are not satisfied with their response. According to Mariel, ‘They said it’s a historical case … He’s not in any danger at the moment and the person that did it has left their care and may not have even been in their care permanently anyway’. Jayke said that FACS regard the issue as ‘a police matter now … basically not our problem.

‘They didn’t even offer to make a single informal apology. They don’t acknowledge its existence.’

Mariel strongly believes that FACS and other agencies owe foster families the same duty of care as the children they look after. ‘I understand from FACS’s point of view that they don’t know and can’t run around saying everything about the child. But I do feel they should give you enough information to make an informed decision about it. ‘Cause this is your life, you know.

‘It’s very pro the children coming into care and very disjointed from the point of view of being a carer. And most of the people that run the out-of-home care have never been a foster carer and haven’t woken up with a child with night terrors and things like that.’

As Jayke is currently a minor, Mariel has engaged a lawyer to manage action against FACS. Now in his late teens, Jayke is learning to deal with his trauma with the assistance of therapy and medication. However, he experiences recurring nightmares and struggles with his sexuality.

‘I’ve woken up every night with nightmares and disturbed sleep since I was nine … It’s the same nightmare every night.

‘I’m bisexual but I can’t do anything on that because I can’t touch a man without freaking out … It’s something I’ve given up on …

‘Considering all the things that have happened of late I s’pose I could be probably doing worse than I am. But yeah, I’m better than I have been in a while but I’ve still got a very, very long way to go.’

Despite this experience, the O’Connors still believe in fostering children. Jayke said, ‘It’s about helping kids. Like you hear about some of the things that have happened to them in their lives and you don’t know how you can help them but you just know you gotta do something.’

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