Mum's anguish over daughter's tragic death
By Helen Jack
JOSEPHINE CONWAY cannot look at herself in the mirror and weeps when she explains why.
Her daughter, Melody, died five years ago in a car crash after she had run away from home and was then placed in care by the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS). Melody was 15-years-old.
"I can't look in the mirror because I could not stop them (DoCs)," Josephine, of South Golden Beach said.
"We were a unit, a team," she said.
"Melody was in a car that crashed on November 12, 2003 in Sydney.
And Josephine says she still has no clear answers from DoCs or the police as to how her daughter came to be in the car at the time.
In her submission to a Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection that held public forums in Ballina and Lismore last week, Josephine explains how she and her daughter had a loving relationship.
Josephine became a single parent when Melody was two-years-old.
"Melody was no accident. She was deeply wanted and she was my only child," she said. "My partner was violent and when Melody was two I left the relationship."
Josephine said Melody was an intelligent teenager who was at times over-active. But with guidance, attention to her diet and plenty of exercise, her daughter was a normal healthy girl.
However, conflict over two large phone bills totalling $980, and her refusal to allow Melody to attend unsupervised parties where she knew drugs and alcohol would be present, triggered a series of events that culminated in Melody being placed into the care of DoCs.
After Melody ran away from home she was placed into a foster home and then given accommodation at a homeless refuge in Byron Bay.
Josephine said she contacted DoCs to let them know of Melody's dietary and exercise requirements, but instead her daughter was given anti-depressants.
Josephine says she has been stonewalled at every turn by DoCS.
"I was crucified for having the temerity to speak up and attempt to gain the highest possible outcome for Melody's health and happiness," she said.
It was soon after her placement in Byron Bay that Melody travelled to Sydney with people she had met at the refuge. Searching for answers about Melody's death, Josephine has filled a room and a computer with reports, submissions, transcripts and letters.
Photos of her daughter adorn Josephine's lounge room. A large painting of Melody's blue eyes is the centrepiece.
Unable to accept her daughter's death, Josephine was walking through Lismore's CBD after attending the inquiry's public forum when she saw jewellery in a shop window and thought how perfect it would be as a 21st birthday present for Melody.
She would have turned 21 on May 19 this year.
Josephine places her hand to her mouth and begins to weep.
"I can't believe all of this is real and I keep thinking I will wake up.
"It's the worst nightmare in the world and there is no support for people like me. Honest parents, who complain, have no organisation to go to for help."
DOCs was unable to be contacted yesterday.