Parents of 22-month-old boy who drowned in swimming pool while in temporary foster care demand answers.

BY Dan Oakes and Sam Clark

The parents of a young boy who died while in temporary foster care have demanded answers and called for increased scrutiny of the foster care system.

Braxton Slager-Lewin was 22 months old when he drowned in a backyard pool in Sydney’s western suburbs in September.

An autopsy report said the house he was placed in was described as “not safe or secure for young children placed under foster care”. The report also said police who attended the scene noted the pool fence did not have a self-latching gate.

Braxton Slager-Lewin drowned in a swimming pool at his foster carer’s.

Braxton’s parents, Vanessa Lewin and Johnny Slager, have spoken out for the first time about their son’s death, telling 7.30 it shows the foster care system is broken.

“It was a dirty, rotten $500 swimming pool that was green and should never have been left in a house that little kids were in,” Mr Slager said.

“I don’t understand, I’m very concerned about that whole situation. It’s not right and something has to be done about it, because it’s just wrong.

“How can they do that? How can they have any respect? How can they sleep at night, man? Fuck, what have they done?”

Braxton was in Mr Slager’s care last year when his father approached the Department of Family and Community Services for help.

He told the Department he intended withdrawing from Methadone, and that he felt he needed some assistance with caring for his son while that occurred.

“They helped me get him into day care and and I had a home visit every few weeks — someone would come from the department and make sure we were doing alright — and then I started having some medical issues and that’s when I started needing help,” Mr Slager said.

Mr Slager said he was then put under pressure by staff from the department to temporarily place Braxton in foster care, and that the department told him if he did not, it would seek permanent custody of Braxton.

He said the department also refused to consider placing the boy with Mr Slager’s relatives. Ms Lewin felt incapable of looking after Braxton because of her own drug use.

Braxton was placed in the foster home, in the western Sydney suburb of Stanhope Gardens, by a non-government organisation called Life Without Barriers, which the department contracts to house children in foster care.

Mr Slager said he began the process required to get Braxton back, which included drug tests and other conditions.

Braxton was only days away from being returned to Mr Slager’s care when he slipped into the water of the backyard swimming pool.

Carer left Braxton alone while she used Facebook: report

A mandatory inquest is yet to be held, but an autopsy report says that at 7:45am on September 13 last year, the Life Without Barriers foster carer changed Braxton’s nappy, then left him with an eight-year-old boy while she had a shower and dealt with some washing. She then took Braxton’s pyjamas off to put them in the wash.

The report says the carer then sat in her lounge room and used Facebook. Eventually, she noticed it was quiet, went into the kitchen and realised the sliding door was open. She went outside and found Braxton face down in the pool, later saying she could not recall whether the pool fence was locked or open.


The report says Braxton was found about 10:00am. A neighbour who was hanging out the washing reported seeing the carer dragging Braxton from the pool. The neighbour phoned the emergency services and tried to resuscitate Braxton, but he did not respond.

“Police attended the scene and noted that the pool fence did not comply with legislative standards as it was not a self-latching gate,” the report says.

“It was opined that the premises was not safe or secure for young children placed under foster care. There was also excessive amounts of alcohol, both consumed (empty beer cans) and non-consumed; and blister packs with medication left throughout the location within reach of the children.”

Police photographs of the house, obtained by Mr Slager from the coroner, appear to support these observations. They show a rubbish-strewn garden, and a slimy, green pool, accessible by rickety timber steps.

“He was dumped in a pile of shit. My house was clean, I cleaned it every day, I vacuumed the floors, I picked up his toys; he never … there was never shit on the floors for him to hurt himself on,” Mr Slager said.

“The place was a fucking dump. He should never have been put there.”

Mr Slager also said he was told department staff visited the house in the days before Braxton’s death.

‘This was not an environment for a young baby to be in’

Child protection expert Joe Tucci, of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said the photographs of the foster home were deeply concerning.

“If there was a baby, a toddler in this kind of environment, it would be a huge danger to them, there is no way that I would have ever allowed a foster carer to remain in this type of environment, in fact I don’t think many foster care agencies and workers today would allow this to occur,” he said.

“So I’m not too sure what kind of circumstances have led to this decision but this was not an environment for a young baby to be in.

“I think that the resources that are available to support foster carers and train foster carers and even assess and screen foster carers isn’t enough and so what we see as a consequence is sometimes children aren’t getting the right kind of care, the quality of care that they need and foster carers themselves are leaving the system in large numbers.”

In a statement, the Department of Family and Community Services said it was “saddened” by Braxton’s death, but could not comment further as the matter was before the Coroner.

It is unknown whether changes have been made to the foster care system as a result of Braxton’s death.

Life Without Barriers also said it was inappropriate to comment on the circumstances of Braxton’s death, but that its thoughts continue to be with his family.

“As an accredited provider of out-of-home care, the wellbeing and safety of children across Australia is our priority,” it said.

“LWB will continue to monitor and carefully review and consider any recommendations arising from the enquiries to promote and advance the wellbeing of children in foster care.”

This article originally appeared online at the ABC.