Maya was married to an abusive man, and her large family had a long ‘child protection history’ with the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services in Queensland. She had tried to leave her husband a few times, but when he molested their daughter, ‘that was it’. She and her children left. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, but did not go to jail.
To keep her children safe, Maya arranged for them to see their father only at supervised contact centres. However, the department mistakenly thought that she had been leaving them with him. This, along with Maya’s struggle to cope with her kids, some of whom had sexualised behaviours, resulted in the children being split up and placed with numerous foster families. This had happened about 10 years previously, when Maya was in her mid-30s.
‘So my children had been taken from my care, virtually ripped from the home where their mother loved them. Then they’d been put into foster care where they’d been mentally, emotionally and physically abused by the carer.’ The carer she was referring to was Wanda MacIntosh who was looking after Maya's sons Brendan, Mark and Stephen.
‘Wanda became mum to the kids, and they were calling her “Mummy”, which was very difficult for me. And she turned them against me … She made it a big deal about my weight with my children, and then her children carried it on.’ Wanda offered to keep the boys until they turned 18, and began ‘bribing’ them not to attend the contact meetings with Maya where they would mention being hurt and ill-treated.
Maya tried ‘to tell everybody what was happening’, but ‘every single time’ she contacted someone in the department, there was a ‘blank wall’. ‘They didn’t want to know’, she said.
Maya later learned that the child safety officer was a friend of Wanda’s. She believes that this was unprofessional, would have influenced the officer’s case notes, and was a reason why nothing was done about her initial complaints.
Maya said that she continued to jump up and down until, finally, a new child safety officer ‘listened to everything I said’.
‘She launched her own investigation into Wanda, and then six months down the track, I get a phone call to say … that Wanda had relinquished the children to the department’s care because the department were going to put a second MOC [Matter of Concern] against her.’
Maya learned that a previous MOC had been issued, charging Wanda with physical, emotional and mental abuse, and that ‘basically she was just slapped on the wrist and told that she had to get more parenting courses’.
‘Within that two-year period, my children had been abused continually, and every single thing I did fell on deaf ears’, Maya said. ‘Basically, when you have been like me, you’re treated completely differently. You’re not treated like a normal member of society, so if you go to anybody with any type of concerns … you’re not listened to. The government department is listened to, but you’re not listened to.’
After this, most of the family was reunited. However, Stephen was ‘extremely violent’. ‘The department felt that myself and the other kids were at risk, and therefore they moved him out of my home, and everything disintegrated’, Maya said. ‘They should have helped me in that instance, and actually put people with me and helped me continue so these children didn’t have a life in care.’ Some of her children were returned to the foster care system, but Stephen ended up in a residential care facility.
At this time, during a ‘reunification process’ supported by a family counsellor, Brendan disclosed that Wanda’s teenage daughter had shown him pornography and sexually abused him when he was in kindergarten. He had told Wanda, but was called a liar and punished. Maya had noticed that the sexualised behaviour of some of her children had ‘shot up’ while they were in Wanda’s care, and she suspects that other incidents of sexual abuse may have occurred. When Maya raised Brendan’s disclosure with Laura, his then foster carer, Laura said, ‘I’m so happy that he’s told you … He told me that, and it just shows that he trusts you’.
Later, during a contact visit, Maya learned that Stephen had been sexually abused by another child at the residential home. The child safety support officer said, ‘I can’t believe that Stephen was molested at that residential centre’. With children in earshot, Maya felt unable to discuss this disclosure. She was never given details, and her son, who was still under 10, received no counselling.
When Maya sought redress, the department threw ‘a blanket over everything’. Instead of recording the harm her children had suffered in care, Maya said that their paperwork was ‘all about me, and all the bad things I’ve done in my life and with the kids’.
Misinformation continued to dog her attempts to get a fair and unbiased hearing. ‘There is misinformation that’s carried on from place to place, from order to order, from report to report, and it’s all been seen as fact.’ A common departmental response to her complaints has been, ‘You’re not accepting responsibility for the things you’ve done’.
Maya spoke to the Commission to challenge the department’s stance that children are safe in their care. ‘These children are people’, she said. ‘They’re not a case, they’re not a number. And someone sitting in an office somewhere makes a decision that completely and totally changes these children’s lives.’
She would like to see the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services investigated, and adequate support and counselling provided for the children in their care.
Maya would love to be reunited with all of her children. However, while some live at home, and one may return home under a ‘reunification order’, the others will remain in the care of the department until they turn 18.