The Victorian Parliament Family and Community Development Committee have released its final report into its ‘Inquiry into abuse in disability services’. This inquiry followed on from the Victorian Ombudsman’s 2015 investigation into abuse in the disability sector.
- People with disabilities, their families and their carers often have difficulty getting someone to listen to any concerns of issues they have with the current management of that person with a disability. This may be in relation to care needs or may be about neglect or suspected abuse.
- Abuse takes the shape of criminal physical and sexual assault perpetrated against adults and children with disabilities, verbal and emotional abuse, financial abuse, and neglect endangering life.
- Females with disabilities are more commonly victims of abuse within the disability sector than their male counterparts.
- Abuse occurs in a range of settings from residential accommodation to day programs, and in services operated by both the Department of Health and Human Services and non-government disability service providers.
- Family members spoke to the inquiry about their experiences of abuse within the sector and the difficulty of attempting to report abuse and then attempting to advocate on behalf of their relatives. Additionally, parents reported concerns about reporting abuse and feeling that their report about suspected abuse was repeatedly ignored or dismissed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the service provider.
- The Committee noted that a fundamental change within the sector needs to take place to address endemic issues of abuse.
- Victoria cannot wait until the Disability Reform Council establishes a national oversight body and must in the interim address deficiencies in the operation of Victoria’s oversight bodies. These changes need to be implemented quickly, be cost effective and improve the system’s ability to prevent and respond to abuse.
- The Committee made 49 recommendations aimed at strengthening disability services in Victoria prior to the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
- The key recommendations include:
- Introducing a Zero Tolerance Framework for abuse in the disability sector which will engage on the issue of abuse prevention and develop strong mechanisms to identify and report on issues of abuse which aligns with domestic legislation on reporting abuse within the criminal justice system and within disability services. Alongside this development the Committee has also recommended that the Government work with the DHHS, the Disability Services Commissioner, and National Disability Services to create standardised policies and processes for providers to follow when reporting suspected abuse, and supporting clients in the aftermath of abuse.
- Introducing provisions to the Disability Act 2006 (Vic) to establish a mandatory scheme for reporting abuse in Victoria. This will require all registered disability service providers to report cases of suspected abuse and neglect within their organisation to the Disability Services Commissioner.
- Enhanced powers to the Disability Services Commissioner which will allow the Commissioner to monitor and evaluate compliance with the zero tolerance of abuse framework. Additional responsibilities will include:
- resolving complaints about disability service providers;
- receiving mandatory reports about abuse and neglect
- own motion powers to investigate reports of abuse and neglect of both an individual and systemic nature
- develop standardised policies and processes for providers to follow when reporting and investigating suspected abuse;
- monitoring and evaluating service quality; and
- supporting the professional development of the disability workforce.
Additionally, delegates will have the power to:
- conduct investigations into reports of abuse and neglect
- investigate reports of abuse made by Community Visitors
- monitor, evaluate and enforce service quality and standards; and
- enter the premises of any disability service provider at any time.
- Renewing the Commissioner’s role as the independent oversight body for disability services in Victoria which will streamline how complaints and reports of abuse are handled by directing them to the Commissioner as the sole responsible body.
- Introducing a “Working with Vulnerable People Check” for all prospective employees in the disability sector. This will be coupled with a statewide prevention and risk management workforce strategy addressing workforce screening and recruitment, registration, induction and supervision, ongoing training and professional development, certification, and workforce culture skills.
- Continue to fund a dedicated advocacy service to support people with disabilities and their families. As well as supporting the roll-out of a national self-advocacy program, based on the Victorian Self-advocacy Resource Unit model. In addition the Committee recommended that the Government conduct a review of disability advocacy with a focus on:
- identifying the demand for different types of advocacy;
- establishing the views of people with disability about advocacy services;
- determining the impact of the NDIS on the capacity of advocacy services; and
- ensuring that both funded and volunteer advocacy services undergo safety screening and meet appropriate quality standards.