Sylvia came to speak with the Royal Commission about the abuse her daughter Cassandra experienced while in care in the late 2000s. In particular, she wanted to highlight her dissatisfaction with the Department of Community Services (DOCS), and the way they responded when told about this abuse.
Cassandra was not quite a year old when she was removed from Sylvia’s care. Sylvia was unable to care for her children because of her issues with substance misuse at the time.
The children were split up and made wards of the state. Eventually, Cassandra came to live in what Sylvia believes to be a privately-operated accommodation service in Sydney. This service was run by two men, Bob and Gerry, who also acted as carers.
Following an allegation of physical assault at the home, it was arranged for Cassandra to live in a bridging placement with Bob’s relatives, Karl and Amanda.
Although Karl and Amanda were thought to have been accredited by a church as carers, Sylvia believes this is not the case. She does not think the couple was ever assessed or accredited by DOCS either.
Cassandra’s case manager ‘had never been to the house to check out the dwelling to see if it was adequate’, and would either speak to Cassandra by phone or meet her in a cafe in the city.
When Cassandra was around 11 years old she told Sylvia that Karl molested her, including ‘tickling her inappropriately’ under her shirt. Her DOCS caseworker Eve also became aware of what was happening.
‘I had a meeting with Eve, where Cassandra actually said that in front of me ... so I said, “You need to say this to Eve”.’
Sylvia recalled Eve’s reply.
‘“Well, Cassandra, if I take you out of there and put you in another place” – I was there and I heard this from her mouth – “it's going to take the whole process longer because we have to get reports taken”. To a little kid, she wants to come home to live with her sister and her brother and the rest of the family, she doesn't want it to take longer.’
Cassandra finally came back to live with her mother. Sylvia found out that Karl had also raped another girl in the home during the time that Cassandra was there.
DOCS conducted an internal investigation into Karl’s sexual assault of both girls a few years later, after the rape was reported. ‘I don't think they knew what to do with it.’
One of the department’s investigators called Sylvia to advise her of the outcome of the investigation.
‘I said, “Oh, good”. And she turned around and said that, “We advise counselling”. I said, "Sorry? So someone can groom and molest children and you advise counselling? I'm a bit confused”.’
The police were also notified about these assaults. DOCS told Sylvia that ‘when the police officer came out, their submission was that the allegations were definitely true. There was no doubt in their mind’.
The police investigation is not continuing, partly because the girl who was raped is still too fragile to give evidence in court. This outcome is difficult for Sylvia to comprehend.
‘I just don't understand. If you don't fix this system there's going to be so many others and we can't – we can't leave it to just, you know, trusting the police.’
After these incidents came to light, DOCS applied to have Cassandra’s wardship reversed. This happened very suddenly, even though they had previously prevented Sylvia from gaining custody.
‘The whole time I had never given up. And I'd never missed a conference. I never missed a visit ... And regardless [of] the stupid mistakes I made, I was on the track to wipe those mistakes.’
Sylvia tries to keep life at home structured and stable. This is not just for Cassandra’s sake, but partly to ‘put a buffer around my other kids’. She helped Cassandra, who is now in her teens, to get a job in a fast food restaurant.
‘She's a bit all over the place ... nothing was resolved. Nothing was done. Nothing was fixed.’