Butler: Mother of autistic boy who was smacked, had soap put in mouth by childcare worker speaks out

Sky Phillips with her son Noah (6). Picture: Martin Kennealey.
Sky Phillips with her son Noah (6). Picture: Martin Kennealey.


BUTLER mum Sky Phillips will never forget the day her young daughter told her a story that would chill her heart.

Mikayla had been at after-school care on December 14, an OSHClub program at John Butler Primary College, with her six-year-old brother Noah.

Noah, who is autistic and non-verbal, had been attending the program since July.

But that day things got out of hand.

One of the carers, Kathleen Burton, smacked Noah and put soap in his mouth while another, Tammie Bell, was said to have held him during the ordeal.

Miss Phillips had been unwell in hospital that day, and arrived home once her children were in bed.

The next morning nine-year-old Mikayla ran into her mum’s room and told her what had happened.

“Kathy got really angry because Noah kept spitting and throwing cars,” nine-year-old Mikayla told Community News during an interview with the family.

Sky Phillips with her children Noah (6) and Mikayla (9). Picture: Martin Kennealey.

“She went into the kitchen, put some soap in her hand and walked over to Noah.

“Tammie held Noah and then Kathy just put it in his mouth.”

Miss Phillips’ instincts told her that her daughter was telling the truth – and a court agreed

Kathleen Burton was charged with common assault in circumstances of aggravation or racial aggravation.

She pleaded guilty in Joondalup Magistrates Court and was fined $700, with costs of $100.

Miss Phillips recalled the shock at learning of her son’s torment, and ensuring her daughter was telling the truth.

“I told her this was a serious thing to say, and if you’re telling porkies people could get into trouble,” Miss Phillips said.

“I could tell by the look on her face she wasn’t joking.

“She was nervous to tell me, but I’m so glad that she did.”

Miss Phillips contacted the police straight away, along with the manager of the OSHClub.

“The police interviewed everyone, the OSHClub were really great in suspending the staff members straight away,” she said.

“My first reaction was anger, because obviously I’ve trusted this woman with my child’s life potentially.”

The centre itself was not on the receiving end of any sanctions.

Despite the court finding, Miss Phillips believed the penalty was insufficient. She has had no further contact with the women.

“I’ve had no apologies from any of them,” Miss Phillips said.

“There’s no restraining orders stopping them from talking to me, so an apology would be nice.”

Tammie Bell had her accreditation cancelled, with the Department of Communities website stating she held Noah during the incident.

A third woman, Jessica Peters, also had her accreditation stripped after she failed to intervene or report the incident.

“It gives me goosebumps thinking about what he had to go through,” Miss Phillips said.

Autism Association of WA chief executive Joan McKenna-Kerr said the incident was “beyond the pale” and every parent’s “worst nightmare”.

“According to the report one of the women held the child while the soap was put in his mouth,” she said.

“For me, that is beyond the pale.

“Any parent sending their young child off to school is very apprehensive in those early days, and particularly the parent of a child with autism – they know the difficulties that their child has.

“They know how their child can be misunderstood, they’re worried about if their child be accepted, will someone show fondness to my child.

“I think a parent’s worst nightmare, especially a non-verbal child, is the idea that the child might be abused.”

MORE: Man charged after fire rips through bushland south of Perth

MORE: Police hunt two men who terrorised northern suburb on weekend

MORE: State Govt to unveil new aged care working group to fast-track developments