Autistic Boy’s Carer had no Experience with Children

The carer who looked after a severely autistic boy who drowned on a day trip was unaware of his client’s disabilities and never received any relevant training from the agency that hired him, an inquest has heard.

Vipula Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage was caring for Felix Hua in his then role as a community support worker with Southern Cross Care when the 14-year-old went missing at Yarra Bend Park in Fairfield on May 30, 2009.

Felix’s body was found three days later in the Yarra River, near Dights Falls.

On the second day of Felix’s inquest at the Coroners Court, coroner Heather Spooner granted Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage protection that anything he said in evidence could not be used against him should police consider laying criminal charges.

In applying for the protection, the carer’s lawyer, Michelle Wilson, told the court that her client wanted to give evidence, but there was a chance he could incriminate himself if he did so.

When he entered the witness box, Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage had a statement read out, in which he said he had told Southern Cross Care he had never worked with children before the agency employed him, and thought it strange when he was later asked to care for Felix.

Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage arrived in Australia from Sri Lanka in 2007 and worked as a carer to help get by while he studied law and finance at university.

He said before he joined Southern Cross Care his only previous caring experience was cleaning for elderly people at their homes.

He said he was never made aware of the extent of Felix’s disability – or his fascination with water, his inability to swim or his tendency to run away from carers – by his employer or the boy’s mother, whose English was limited.

He said he knew nothing of autism until after Felix’s death.

Southern Cross Care and the City of Yarra – which outsourced its care program to the agency – have both acknowledged deficiencies in the way Felix was looked after, and have apologised to the boy’s family.

Jonathan Morris, a former manager at Southern Cross Care, told the court on Tuesday the agency should not have taken on children and people with disabilities as clients when it took over the City of Yarra’s care contract in 2008, as the agency had only previously cared for elderly people.

Mr Morris said he was unaware Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage lacked the skills to care for Felix, and acknowledged no one in the agency was qualified to do so.

“Felix clearly needed someone with more specialised skills,” he said.

Felix went missing when Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage went to his car to get some biscuits, leaving the boy playing alone in a sandpit for about four minutes.

The carer said Felix’s death had devastated him, as despite the difficulties in caring for him on weekly outings he had regarded him as a son, and the boy’s family as his own family in Australia.

The court heard that during his time as Felix’s carer, the boy had been left alone on another occasion, when a passerby discovered him playing alone in the dirt on an oval and called the police.

But Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage said that incident had been a misunderstanding, as people often did not realise a man of Sri Lankan appearance was caring for a boy of Vietnamese appearance, and that he was giving Felix the space he liked.

“I always tried my best when I looked after Felix and all my other clients. I was not lazy. I was always respectful. I did not neglect my duties as a carer,” Mr Rajakaruna Mudiyanselage said.

The inquest continues.

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Topics:
Legal, Corrections, Justice System

Author:
Adam Cooper

Source:
The Age

Date published:
Tue 25th Jun, 2013