"Just a splash in the pond!"
Comment by Max Jackson, former CEO Kew Cottages, Victoria ...
Most media exposure about the questionable occurrences in the
disability field is rarely more than sensationalism - soon gone and forgotten.
The recent ABC TV Lateline program (LINK) while bringing to the fore issues associated with abuse in care, only skimmed the surface. The abuse of persons with disabilities in care is much more than physical or sexual abuse. While it is these abuses that are usually taken up in public demonstrations of concern, the most insidious abuse is that which occurs on a day-to-day basis when there are deficits in the duty of care. Duty of care is about carers providing a service and environment that best meets the needs of the person in care, in a way that respects the person. There are too many stories of families raising concerns about carers failing to meet their duty of care. It is not possible to identify how widespread are the deficits and the consequent abuse in care.
The recently released 2012 report of Victorias Disability Services Commissioner does not make a good fist of identifying any level of abuse in care. The report fails to classify the complaints and to identify the services against whom the complaints were made. In any event, had it done so, the fact remains that the Commissioner has no legal power to direct organisations where abuse may be occurring. Despite the failure of formal processes establishing good information, there is strong anecdotal evidence provided by families suggesting that there is a significant level of abuse in care.
Many people who have a disability cannot speak up for themselves; therefore it is left to their families to speak out. It is not uncommon however for families to be sidelined by service providers and advocacy organisations. Their calls for action go unheeded. In effect, families are reduced to being mere spectators. They are not given the respect they deserve. Respect is much more than giving lip service to the importance of families, it is much more than stating high-sounding principles, and it is much more than hiding behind the cloak of privacy. Respect is about involvement, and it is about working with the family to address their concerns.
It is all very well for the Public Advocate or representatives of advocacy organisations to make high-sounding noises about abuse in care on a program like Lateline. It is all very well for these same people to suggest that abuse in care is widespread. The critical question is: What have they done about it? The Office of the Public Advocates office came into being in 1986. Not long after this that government funded advocacy services were also established. Despite a quarter of a century of advocacy in this State, no-one charged with the responsibility of protecting the rights of persons with a disability can tell us how widespread abuse is.
There is a plethora of individuals and entities with a responsibility to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. There is the Office of the PublicAdvocate, the Disability Services Commissioner, Community Visitors, funded advocacy organisations and their peak bodies, as well as funding and service agreements between the Department of Human Services and funded services. There is a quality audit framework for disability agencies, and there is a myriad of policies and procedures and guidelines. Yet, still the day-to-day abuse of persons with disabilities continues and too often either goes unreported or not acted upon.
Unfortunately it is not uncommon for the management hierarchy within the hundreds of funded disability organisations to provide a knowing smile to families, pat them on the back and tell them that the matter will be looked into. Management does not want to know about the abuse that occurs in their organisation. Instead, they seek to protect their staff no matter what the evidence. Under the States new bullying laws it can be argued that turning a blind eye to complaints about abuse in care makes management as much an offender as the abuser.
Typically, when there is a public airing of allegations of abuse, the response more often than not is more training and more money, suggesting that if only staff were better trained, then abuse would not occur. This is nonsense. A persons attitude towards vulnerable people is not about the persons education and training; it is about the persons attitude. It is quite clear that many people working in the disability field need to understand the requirement to meet their duty of care. Direct care staff must be closely supervised to ensure that they do. Where abuse occurs, action must be taken to either rectify the deficits or sack the person. There seems to be this naive and blinkered management attitude that their staff can do no wrong. Incidents are known where parents have complained, the complaint shows the staff to have been in the wrong, but then the parents are cast as the villain by management.
Abuse in care is not solely about individual abusers. It is a systemic issue. It is about staff recruitment, it is about training, it is about supervision, it is about discipline. It is about taking parents complaints seriously. It is about establishing useful information. It is about giving greater powers to the Disability Services Commissioner. It is about funded advocacy organisations demonstrating that they do believe in Values Advocacy.
The Government, funded agencies, the Office of the Public Advocate, the Disability Services Commissioner, and funded advocacy organisations must become more proactive. They cannot simply remain commentators expressing sentiments of concern.
LISA Comment: It is interesting to see NDS saying they take a zero tolerance approach to abuse, as they are not service providers. So what does this mean in practice. It can only mean that they encourage and support their members to take this approach.
In total contrast, DHS/DS, Victoria, does not take a zero tolerance approach... Quite the reverse! This government department has a long standing reputation for supporting and retaining staff, almost no matter what they do, or don't do. The worst staff can expect, is to be moved sideways.
This culture of safe employment no-matter-what, is little comfort for consumers. Who needs consumers, when one has a captive market. The DHS/DS has a captive market like no other.
The DHS is a funder, a regulator, a direct service provider, a landlord and the statewide service allocation agency through its all powerful DSR (Disability Support Register).
It is little wonder they, DHS/DS, and other government direct services throughout Australia can treat people with disabilities and their families in any way they like. And they do!
Years of questionable activities in the NSW Police was finally broken through the state government bring-in, and giving independent people from overseas the power to investigate and restructure.
The years of Telecom power over people arrogance was finally broken by the federal government forcing them to accept competition, and breaking their nationwide monopoly. At least we have choice now! But the majority of people with disabilities, still have to suffer no-choice-service, by power over people service provision.
Media exposure of the whole disability field needs to be, by the big guns of 'Four Corners' and '60 Minutes', or better.