SPECIAL REPORT: Laura Lyons is a 48-year-old Wiradjuri woman living in Sydney. She alleges that three of her children as well as four of her grandchildren have been stolen from her by the Australian government. Laura is a member of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), a group of grandmothers who are fighting to get their stolen children and grandchildren back. This is Laura’s story as told to Dr Camille Nakhid.
In March 2014, my daughter got on drugs and she had to have a meeting with the Department [Department of Children Services – DoCS] because she was at risk of losing her children. And I totally understood that because our priority is to keep our children safe.
Anyway, I went into the meeting to support my daughter and the case worker was using language that my daughter couldn’t understand. So I kept on pulling her up [the case worker] and said: “Listen, could you please use language or words that my daughter would be familiar with so that she could understand?”
And this case worker took offence to what I was doing. I said: “How can my daughter answer you honestly and openly if she doesn’t understand what she’s being asked or what you’re saying to her?”
So she got offended, looked at me and said: “What’s happening with your case?” And I said “My case file is closed. The allegations about me were never proven. And she looked at me and said: ‘We’ll see about that!’”
So next minute I had DoCS on my door and my case file was opened back up! So this case worker put in her affidavit at the court that I had an open case file! She was the one that got my case opened back up so that I couldn’t go for my grandchildren.
And in the process I ended up losing my own children. This was March 24 and I eventually did lose my children on 4 December 2015. I clearly became a target because I supported my daughter.
I only get to see my children once every three weeks for an hour and a half, maybe two hours.
My children are supposed to go with family members, there was no consultation process. They took my children from school, they placed them into what is known as a residential care facility. It’s similar to an institution. The residential care facility was getting paid $11,000 + a month to have my kids there. That’s been confirmed.
[Laura’s children that were allegedly stolen from her are aged 11, 10 and eight years old — two girls and a boy respectively.]
The abuse in care
My 8-year-old boy was getting put in a corner. Being isolated as a form of punishment. My 10-year-old daughter was apparently getting dragged along the ground by the hair of the head by an 18-year-old worker. This was a high cost placement with high qualified and skilled staff to support my children to ensure that my children will be kept safe.
They [the case workers] are 18 years old! How could they be qualified? They would have just finished school! (My children) were getting locked in their room. My daughter would be threatened when she was to leave the property, “If you run away, if you misbehave, when you get back you will have no dinner. You will go straight to your room. You’ll be separated from your siblings!”
My children were being forced fed because they didn’t like the food, and were only allowed water and cordial to drink. The manager is also the owner of this residential care facility. So initially it’s her own privatised enterprise, it’s her business. They make large amounts of money by taking our children.
The manager’s 17-year-old son was speaking rude to my daughters in Spanish. I said to my daughter, “How do you know that it’s rude because you don’t speak Spanish?” And my two daughters replied, “Because he always tells us in English afterwards”.
My children eventually ran away from this facility because of how they were being treated. I found my children and took them to the police station and my little 10-year-old daughter screamed and begged and cried to the police officers from Kogarah police station not to send them back there.
They did not listen! They did not believe my children and what they were telling them. They left us sitting in the police station for four hours. Eventually they sent my three children back there.
And then it escalated, the manager’s 17-year-old son was making sexual advances towards my 10-year-old daughter. He was having free access to my children. He didn’t have a criminal record check! Or a “working with children” check! He was on the property with them, unsupervised.
So when further allegations were disclosed to me I didn’t tell the Department. I couldn’t trust them because they didn’t believe my children the first time. They didn’t believe me. So I called the Hotline. And I contacted the Ombudsman. And as a result of my actions to keep my children safe, that facility is no longer an out-of-home care provider and are under investigation, and my children were removed from that facility.
My children were supposed to be kept safe. My children were supposed to be supervised 24 hours a day, seven days a week
My children were then placed with another non-Aboriginal placement called Interactive Community Care service. They are a little bit different because they don’t have a live in facility. My children were then being dragged from motel to motel.
We [taxpayers] would have been paying for that. I pay taxes, I work. Here I was at home with a three-bedroom loving home and they wouldn’t let my kids come home. And they were saying that (the motel) was suitable! That it was safe for them! That was in their best interest, and that they had routine and structure.
So while they were in the motel, with the new workers that were supposed to be supervising them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, my daughters locked themselves into a bathroom. They had iPods and they were taking nude photos of themselves and sending the photos to some unknown paedophile online.
Where was the staff when my children were doing that? They said that my children were going to be supervised again. That they were going to be kept safe. That’s obviously proven that they failed again!
The system that they’ve got set up here in Australia is what we call flawed, very flawed.
Anyone can ring up and make false allegations. Once you do that, they will act on that information. You will not get an opportunity to fight those allegations until after the removal of your children. Then it will take you a lengthy period of time to go through the white society’s court system – to try and prove that these allegations are not true.
When any Aboriginal child is placed into care with the Department, they’re supposed to place Aboriginal children with families, extended families or remain in their communities. It’s in their own policies and procedures.
But they don’t that. The majority of Aboriginal children are placed with non-Aboriginal white carers or placed in residential care facilities just like my children were.
It is important that they follow their own policies and procedures. That then guarantees that our children remain connected to their families, their culture and their communities
Laura fighting to get her children and grandchildren back
I’m fighting. I love my children and grandchildren more than life itself. I miss my children and my grandchildren. The department had me doing alcohol testing, drug testing. I’ve been sober for 26 years. I spent two and a half years in a rehabilitation centre back in 1990.
Even though I was having ongoing drug testing, and ongoing alcohol testing, people were still ringing up anonymously and saying that I’m drinking alcohol in front of my kids. So I was just basically discriminated against, labelled and stereotyped.
They fabricate evidence and they will manipulate and twist your words to suit them. They are corrupt. They went from me to my mother. I wanted my mother to care for my children and they said the same thing about my mother. She’s 69 and they said that she abuses alcohol and that she’s a gambler!
They stated that they received an allegation about my mother in 2013 that she was abusing alcohol. People who know my mother know she is a non-drinker. This clearly displays the level of discrimination and corruption.
Laura is very clear about why this is happening
Because of the power and control. Because they can take our children and keep them! And it’s all about the money they get. For every child that goes into out of home care, they get an income stream.
I went to a forum about the escalating numbers of Aboriginal children. The forum was held at Little Bay, at old Prince Henry Hospital on the May 27 this year. That was organised by the Minister for DoCS Brad Hazzard. He is even aware that there are too many Aboriginal children in care.
Why are all those Aboriginal children in care! We make up a minority of the population in our country. We’re only like two percent of the country but thirty percent of our children are in care. Our children can stay in care until they turn 18.
DoCS believes that my kids shouldn’t be with me. DoCS have discriminated against me. DoCS have no understanding or acknowledge our model of raising our children. It’s like the saying, it takes a village to raise a child. That’s how we are and we’ve raised our kids for thousands of years before colonisation.
Grandmothers Against Removal is a New South Wales body set up now locally state-wide and also nationally. We’ve got GMAR set up all over Australia. I am part of the Sydney, branch. Other branches are Moree, Campbelltown, and Ballina with the intention of growing.
Our own individual GMAR set up in our own communities is to fight issues at the local level. There’s probably only about 30 to 40 members [in GMAR Sydney]. We’re not a very big group but we’re a very powerful group.
Anybody can join. There are Aboriginal grandmothers like myself. GMAR New South Wales was formed back in 2014 and was formed by Aunty Hazel, Suellyn Tighe, Aunty Deb Swann and Jennifer Swann. All these strong black deadly women provided me with hope and inspired me at a time when I needed it most. Our Sydney branch was formed on December 7, 2015.
We’ve been going for about six months. Everything we do is as volunteers. We try and function on donations, at times can be quite difficult. And then there is Werribee, the self help support group that me and my daughter Bianca are the founders of. Werribee is a Wiradjuri word that means backbone in Wiradjuri language. That’s my culture, that’s my tribe.
When me and Bianca lost our children we had nowhere to go. No one to talk to. Nobody to tell how we were feeling, that we were angry, that we were hurting. We were very emotional. Every time they [Bianca’s children] see me and Bianca, they say they wanna come home.
We’re fighting! Bianca’s been fighting for two years. Her children have been in care for two and a half years and she’s still fighting to get them back. She’s lost her children because of drugs, you know? We accept that.
However, she’s not on drugs anymore. She hasn’t been on drugs for 17, 18 months. Give her children back! They don’t want to give her, her children back. We will fight and continue to fight not only for our children but for all Aboriginal children that are in care.
GMAR wants people to know about their cause
We gather every Sunday (at a market in Marrickville) just to make people aware of what’s going on. We say, “Have you heard about Grandmothers Against Removal?” No? And I say, “Well do you remember when Kevin Rudd said sorry for the Stolen Generations?”
They say “Yes”. “Well, the Stolen Generations haven’t stopped!”
There are actually more kids in care now than there ever was! And Kevin Rudd said sorry on the 11 February 2008. And when you say sorry, it means that you don’t do it again.
And all these people in Australia are oblivious to the fact that there’s more kids in care than there ever was! Around about 20,000, and that the stolen generations have never stopped. It’s just been covered up by their policies.
If you wish to donate to GMAR, click on this link:
If you want to sign the petition, click here