Son wants to return home to family
A 13-YEAR-OLD boy is in hiding, avoiding child services officers after fleeing foster care in an attempt to be reunited with his mother.
His mother, Liliana Distefano, says the boy has been on the run since mid-September and lives in constant fear of being seized by authorities.
At a meeting with the Chronicle, Ms Distefano, in the company of her son, accused the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services of harming her family's welfare.
Ms Distefano, who has another son with autism, said she was overcome by health and personal circumstances in early 2009.
She said she was left with no option but to relinquish her then 11-year-old son into the care of the department.
The decision was made when the pressure of her own health issues combined with her son's medical conditions forced her to form the view she was not able to care for him properly in that period.
"I had exhausted all avenues with regards to respite - Commonwealth respite, disability services - they all said there was nothing available," Ms Distefano said.
"In desperation, I contacted DOCS and they said the only way they could help was if I relinquished him into care."
Ms Distefano said departmental officers came to her home with documents, which she signed, and her son was removed from her care the same day.
It was the beginning of a traumatic, three-month separation, unbroken by a phone call or a visit.
"I knew nothing - I was beside myself for three months," Ms Distefano said.
"I called all the time asking 'where is he', 'when can we do contact'.
"Nobody would give me any answers."
Now, with the boy is on the run, a spokesperson for the department said specific cases would not be discussed but there were general guidelines that applied to all cases.
"When a child or young person leaves their foster home, residential care, or carers, and is then considered to be at risk of being harmed, police are immediately contacted," the spokesperson said.
"Every effort is made to locate the child or young person to return them to their home and to look into why they have made the decision to leave.
"Depending on the young person and their circumstances, the department will review arrangements to keep them safe, and their travel and movements may be limited."
Ms Distefano said in the two years from 2009 there had been varying degrees of contact between her and her son.
Recently, she noticed a change in his demeanour and then, in mid September, he gave her a letter during a visit containing various complaints and made it clear he wished to return home.
This prompted a fiery meeting with departmental officials and led to Ms Distefano seeking legal advice.
Ms Distefano said her boy was reported missing by the department, prompting periodic visits to her house by police.
She has alleged departmental officers had harassed members of her family by telephone.
"All I want is for my son to be allowed to come home, he is my son and I love him," she said.
In response to questions about the reunification process of children who had been surrendered into care, the department's spokesperson said: "Children subject to short term child protection orders have a case plan that details how they will be reunited with their families.
"This case plan will identify what additional supports are required for the child to safely return to their family's care.
"This may include engaging the family with agencies that can support them in addressing the child protection issues that led to the child coming into care."