As a four-year-old, Wes was taken from his single mother by the Department of Community Services [DOCS] and placed in foster care in New South Wales. To this day he still doesn’t know why he was removed from her care.
Throughout the 1970s, Wes lived in a succession of foster and institutional homes, experiencing sexual abuse at most of them. He remembered the first home fondly, but had to leave there when the mother became ill. At the second home, in a Sydney outer suburb, he was molested by the mother and her two daughters, both quite a few years older than him. They would come in when he was in the bath and fondle his penis. This happened regularly over the five years Wes lived there.
Wes moved to the foster home as a five-year-old and started at the local school. His experience here was one of many throughout his life, where his severe deafness went undetected. It was a problem at home, where it meant he didn’t hear his foster mother coming up behind him. It was a problem at school, where he was sent to the back of the class as a punishment for non-participation.
Wes spoke to his DOCS caseworkers about the ongoing abuse. ‘But they used to put it down to – “Oh, you’ve got a behavioural problem”.’ He also tried to talk to the principal but one of his foster sisters came into the room and he felt unable to continue.
It was a very unhappy time, Wes told the Commissioner.
‘All my life I thought “It must be something I’ve done, to cause this” … I’ve thought about running away and killing myself, over the years – I was going to do it. I was ready to go down and walk on the train tracks.’
Eventually, however, Wes did tell the principal what was happening to him and DOCS was brought in to organise a new home. Several more homes followed, with sexual abuse occurring at each. It was difficult for Wes to find the opportunity to tell his caseworker about the abuse, but when he did he was generally listened to and quickly moved to a new placement.
His last state home was an institutional facility for intellectually disabled boys and youths, where he lived for about seven years. He faced the same problems here. The house mother molested the boys and had sex with some of them, including Wes. He suffered ongoing sexual abuse by a friend of the superintendent. And in class the teacher thought he was being difficult and made him sit at the back of the room.
‘I couldn’t hear anything the teacher was saying, especially if she was looking at the blackboard.’
In the late 80s the institution closed down. Wes was helped by DOCS to secure a housing commission home. His 20s were a difficult time, he said, but he found work and eventually ended up managing a shop in western Sydney. ‘That was fun’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I was the one in charge of all the stuff that came in. I used to ring the warehouse and get all the stuff we needed.’
In 2004 Wes decided to go to technical college to get some help learning to read and write. His deafness had finally been properly diagnosed a few years before. At college he met Carol, who became his wife and came with him to the Royal Commission. Until they met, Wes had always been single.
Carol has had health problems and Wes is now her full-time carer. Their great sadness is that their children have been taken by DOCS and placed into care. They’re only able to see them once a month. But, as they told the Commissioner, they’re doing everything they can to get them back. Wes is also seeking compensation for the abuse he suffered while in government care.