Bashed woman suffers panic attacks and lived life of a ‘hermit’
Bashed woman suffers panic attacks and lived life of a ‘hermit’

Carer opens up on traumatic ordeal

A FORMER carer bashed and abused by the children under her care has appealed for more support for people working in the field.

Nicole Burke of Kirwan said she was speaking out in the hope that others could be spared the anguish and mental illness she had suffered.

"There needs to be more support for people who care for these children," Ms Burke said.

"I am speaking out in the hope this can help other people to stay in the job.

"There's so many people who come into this for a couple of weeks and go because it's a really hard job."

Ms Burke was employed by Catalyst Child and Family Services for almost two years before stopping her work in late 2018 after suffering mental health illness.

Catalyst is a not-for-profit organisation that provides therapeutic residential care houses in Cairns and Townsville.

Its website says its services are designed to meet the needs of children and young people who cannot live with their own families.

"We provide the structure and nurture young people (who) need to recover from the disruptions of their earlier lives," the website says.

Former child practitioner Nicole Burke at her Kirwan home. Picture: Evan Morgan
Former child practitioner Nicole Burke at her Kirwan home. Picture: Evan Morgan

Ms Burke recently settled a damages case with Catalyst and its insurer WorkCover for an undisclosed payout for personal injuries, claiming negligence and breach of contract, allegations that Catalyst denied.

According to her statement of claim, Ms Burke provided care for children in residential care in homes in Mount Louisa and Mount Low.

In September, 2018, she claims she was hit across the face with a loaf of frozen bread by an abusive girl in residential care.

In another incident in the same month, she claims she was assigned to care for a girl in which only one care practitioner was allocated at any one time when in fact two were needed.

She claims the girl, a teenager, was aggressive and verbally abusive, threatened to kill herself and Ms Burke and punched her in the stomach and arm.

She says the girl cut herself with glass from a broken window.

In a notice of intention to defend, Catalyst denied the girl was allocated one care practitioner on grounds including that the allocation of one care practitioner was determined by the Department of Child Services, consistent with the funding provided for her needs and assessment.

Ms Burke went on sick leave after the incidents and was supported by WorkCover before approaching Shine Lawyers to argue her case for damages.

She was assessed as suffering from an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.

Ms Burke said that for the first year following the incidents she "pretty much became a hermit", suffering from panic attacks when she left home.

She is still on medication but sufficiently recovered to be able to look for work in administration. She felt unable to return to work as a carer.

Catalyst CEO Laurel Downey said she did not disagree that people working in residential care needed more training to better prepare them for the complexity of the work but that Ms Burke had all the training that anybody had in the field.

Originally published as Carer opens up on traumatic ordeal


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