I attended the NDS Victoria Conference and listened to Miranda Brunyniks, Deputy Disability Service Commissioner, speak about her Office’s experience in investigating complaints of abuse from people with a disability and oversight of Category One incidents of staff to client assault; no less than 87% of 348 incident reports between 2015-2016 involving allegations of staff to client assault.

That night I went home and watched the following report by Four Corners – “Fighting the System” that shared harrowing stories of the lives of individuals who had experienced abuse in receipt of disability supports. This report highlighted the environment where people with a disability are most likely to be at risk of abuse - in group homes.

Assault and abuse of people with a disability by staff who are entrusted to support them is not only criminal, it goes against the mission of disability support providers, is a fundamental breach of human rights and will have legal and regulatory implications for providers who are found to have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it from occurring or respond inadequately when allegations do arise. Providers need to be proactive in taking steps to avoid any of their clients being abused while in their care.

Providers should not be complacent and rely upon accreditation audits for compliance or a guarantee that the rights of people with disabilities are being upheld in their organisation. Pursuit of zero tolerance to abuse of people with disabilities requires ongoing and sustained effort to review and improve and maintain a governance structure, organisational culture and workforce that respects and values the clients that they support.

Where providers suspect a client has been assaulted by a member of staff it is imperative that you act immediately to protect the client including:

  • ensuring the client has access to professional and family supports to cope with the trauma of the assault;
  • involve the police early to maximise prospects of successful prosecution; and
  • conduct appropriate and robust investigations to assist in informing employment and quality responses.

Sometimes organisations cannot do this alone and need expert help. The National Disability Services Zero Tolerance Tool Kit assists disability service providers to understand, implement and improve practices which safeguard the rights of people they support.