LINDA Bliss remembers the day she allegedly told a NSW Government child welfare officer that her foster father, a Seventh Day Adventist deacon and elder, had been sexually abusing her for years.
It was not long after her foster mother died in 1973, when the department was considering whether to leave the 13-year-old girl at a Kirribilli home with the man who had raised her from the age of three.
Ms Bliss remembers the welfare officer walking into the kitchen to speak to her foster father, and returning to say her foster father admitted the abuse. She alleges the welfare officer said he would make a report.
“That’s the last time I saw a welfare officer because no-one came back,” said Ms Bliss, 59, who is taking legal action against the State of NSW and Department of Community Services for failing its duty of care to protect her, and after documents revealed the department repeatedly rejected her biological father’s attempts to visit her and get her back.
That’s the last time I saw a welfare officer because no-one came back.Linda Bliss.
“When I got my DOCS records there was no report there about me disclosing being sexually abused,” said Ms Bliss, a former NSW police officer for 24 years.
Instead there was a report on December 19, 1973, from a welfare officer saying there was “absolutely no chance” of the teenager “being in moral danger if permitted to remain” in the sole care of her foster father.
“My foster mother knew. She’d walk in sometimes and he’d be doing things to me. They had arguments about it. They presented as this fine Christian family but this was all happening,” Ms Bliss said.
Ms Bliss became a ward of the state in 1961 when she was 18 months old and her mother, 23, “had a kind of nervous breakdown”.
She was placed with the very religious Seventh Day Adventist couple after they agreed to raise her in her mother’s Church of England faith. They didn’t. In Ms Bliss’s file the department notes it failed to ensure the commitment was kept, which “resulted in a breach of the Child Welfare Act”.
Documents also record Ms Bliss’s biological father, Jack Franklin, wanted to see his daughter from early 1962, many months before she was fostered out. From May 1963 he formally refused the foster couple’s many attempts to adopt the child because he was not prepared to relinquish her. Her biological mother also rejected the adoption requests.
In 1964 a department representative recommended a visit between Mr Franklin and his 5-year-old daughter, despite the foster parents’ strong objections, but it was finally refused.
“I am very disappointed about the decision about seeing my daughter. I have only her interests at heart and everything I do in this life is with her on my mind,” Mr Franklin said in a letter to the department.
My foster mother knew. She’d walk in sometimes and he’d be doing things to me. They had arguments about it. They presented as this fine Christian family but this was all happening.Linda Bliss
Ms Bliss alleges she was already being sexually abused by her foster father by then, and her foster mother forced her to pray on her knees and beg forgiveness for her sins each night or she would “die and go to hell and burn”.
DOCS records repeatedly noted the foster mother’s “overprotectiveness” of her foster daughter, her admission that her husband was “terrified” if Mr Franklin’s attempts to see his daughter and get her back succeeded, and Linda’s mystery stomach pains requiring emergency hospital treatment. They also record a welfare officer’s view that the foster parents’ praise of the child Linda was “almost too good to be true”.
Ms Bliss says in some ways she had a privileged childhood.
“I lived at a beautiful house in Kirribilli, I went to a private school and we travelled the world when I was 13. But on the plane I woke up with my foster father’s hand up my dress and in my underpants under the blanket, while his wife was sitting on the other side of him. He had his hand in my pants when I was a little girl and he had me on his lap while he was talking to his friends,” Ms Bliss said.
“He was hiding in plain sight and as a child I had no power. He did it straight in front of people. What was I supposed to feel other than absolutely powerless?”
Shine Lawyers’ national abuse law manager Lisa Flynn said Ms Bliss’s case was “an appalling example of the government’s failure to protect a vulnerable child”.
“We have evidence that her father tried relentlessly to have his child returned to him. Rather than return our client to a loving home, she was instead exposed to regular and persistent abuse by her foster parents. In our view this was wilful blindness to a child’s suffering that could have, and should have, been prevented,” Ms Flynn said.
Ms Bliss met her biological father in 1976 when he was gravely ill. It was more than six years after he advised the department by letter that he would never consent to her adoption because it would mean she would never be able to see him if she later wished to do so.
Ms Bliss did not attend her foster father’s funeral, and decided to take legal action against the state when her grandchildren turned 13, near the age at which she alleges she disclosed her long-term sexual abuse to a government welfare officer.
“My foster father was seen as a good man because he was a religious elder. He would stand beside the pastor shaking everyone’s hands as they left, and they’d all say what a good man he was. And then he would do those things to me,” she said.
The Department of Family and Community Services said it will investigate and “duly consider any claim for compensation that Ms Bliss or her lawyers wish to make… as is the case with all historical sexual assault civil claims against the department”.
“FACS will not be making any further comment on this matter,” a spokesperson said.