Sondra spoke to the Royal Commission on behalf of her daughter, Mackenzie. Mackenzie is a teenager with physical and developmental disabilities who communicates only with a little sign language. She has been going to a special needs school in New South Wales since she was very young.
Sondra is Mackenzie’s main carer. To give Sondra a break, Mackenzie spends weekends once or twice a month at a respite centre funded by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC).
One day when Mackenzie was in her mid-teens, Sondra’s phone rang. ‘I got a phone call from the coordinator’, Sondra told the Commissioner. ‘He said there’d been an incident at [the respite centre] and detectives would notify me.’
The coordinator wouldn’t go into detail. ‘He just said it was “inappropriate behaviour” towards Mackenzie.’
The following day Sondra received a phone call from the police. The detective advised that Mackenzie had been indecently assaulted by one of the workers at the respite centre eight months earlier. She identified the offender as Andy Redmond. Sondra knew Redmond quite well. ‘I trusted him. He’d been there a few years.’
One of Redmond’s duties was helping Mackenzie wash when she stayed overnight. ‘Two carers had witnessed it on separate occasions … after showering her, he was paying quite a lot of attention to her pubic area. Like drying her with the towel – but it was taking quite a while. So then they’ve reported him.’
Sondra does not know why it took the workers so long to report Redmond, or why she was not informed if an early report had been made. No one has explained it to her as yet. But the news threw light on some behavioural problems Mackenzie had been having. Mackenzie had been reluctant to get in the van that normally took her to the respite centre, especially if it was being driven by Andy Redmond. And there had been trouble at Mackenzie’s school.
‘I was contacted by Mackenzie’s principal because Mackenzie was throwing terrible tantrums, she was pulling her hair out and biting herself.’
After the abuse was revealed the principal organised a psychologist for Mackenzie and she began to settle down. ‘Once [Mackenzie] knew I knew, she calmed down quite a bit.’ Mackenzie is still at school and is happy there. And Sondra still sends her to the respite centre for the occasional weekend. Andy Redmond has resigned.
Sondra recalls what may have been ‘grooming’ by Redmond in the year before the assault. He used to drive Mackenzie and himself on what he called ‘a little date’ to fast food restaurants. Sondra told the police about that, ‘and the detective said, “Didn’t alarm bells ring then?” and I said, “No”’.
Police interviewed Redmond; he denied the abuse allegations. Sondra was not asked for a statement. The police told Sondra a prosecution would be difficult, since Mackenzie was non-verbal and therefore not a viable witness. Sondra does not understand why the accounts of the workers who saw Redmond abusing Mackenzie are not enough for a prosecution. She has heard no more from the police in two years.
Sondra complained to the Ombudsman about the handling of the matter by the ADHC and the respite centre. ‘I understand they have to do their own investigations, but the parents should know. I mean, your poor kid’s self-harming, and you don’t know why.’
She believes that ADHC did what it could to protect its respite centre and its staff rather than to deal with her daughter’s future safety and her own distress. ‘I just burst into tears. You feel bad, like it’s your fault.’ She is most concerned that Andy Redmond may have passed a Working with Children Check.
‘It’s a bit scary because how do I know that he’s not working at one of these other institutes?’