An Indigenous mother living with paranoid schizophrenia has told a Royal Commission that her son was removed from her for five years by the Department of Child Safety (DOCS), without informing her of their intentions.
At the eighth hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability on Monday, the mother, who is identified as ‘Ann’ -not her real name- said she felt “cheated” when DOCS removed her son for five years because she was seeking help for her condition.
After suffering a mental episode five years ago, Ann was admitted to hospital in a state of “psychosis”.
During her admittance, she said she thought DOCS had given her a document to sign so they could take care of her son while she was in the hospital, but was shocked when they took him for five years.
“The Department of Child Safety came in the morning and got me to sign papers but because I was in a psychosis it felt like they just threw them at me, and just said, 'sign it,'” said Ann.
“They didn't give me any more information. It was kind of like really quick and, 'let's go, we've got a job to do' kind of thing,” she said.
Ann said the Department did not communicate clearly with her about what she was signing, and that it only became clear once she was over her episode.
“I wouldn't have agreed to it, like, in my mind, at that time, I wouldn't have agreed to it if they said you can have your son five years later,” she said.
Ann, a single mother at the time, said she was only trying to seek the proper support needed in order to take care of her son and was trying everything possible to communicate with DOCS.
But, she said there were not enough support services around at the time for Indigenous parents living with a disability, which included mediating child removals and reunifications processes.
Senior counsel assisting the commission, Lincoln Crowley, said he has repeatedly been told that people involved in the system are not getting the support they need, and neglect was occurring on a systematic basis.
During the hearing, Mr Crowley said evidence provided to the Commission from Ann’s lawyer proved that she had been “proactively” seeking the proper medical help needed to deal with her condition.
“Ann fought to have her son returned to her,” said Mr Crowley.
“She proactively sought support to help her with her mental health condition.”
An Indigenous healthcare worker closely assisting Ann through a cultural support program said the negative attitude towards her from DOCS made the reunification process a lot more difficult.
There've been a lot of families that children were removed that didn't need removing
Although Ann had been proactively seeking the proper support needed for her condition, DOCS informed her they had applied for an order to remove her son until he was 18-years-old. The order was ultimately never approved.
Following a lengthy legal process, the healthcare worker and her organisation were able to assist in reunifying Ann with her son after five years, and the child remains in the mother's primary care.
According to the healthcare worker, in Ann’s case and many others like hers, better support services are needed rather than the removal of a child.
“There've been a lot of families that children were removed that didn't need removing, that the families just needed a little bit of support,” said the healthcare worker.
“She's [Ann] developed insight into the fact that she does have mental illness, that she is in need of mental health support.
“A big part of the mental health support is the cultural support that wraps around that, that she has done parenting and she's a very good mum.
“If she's not sure about anything, she will call us and we will offer her some solutions or some suggestions on a way forward.”