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Jackson Ryan Partners - Myth Busters

MYTH BUSTER PAPER No. 1: Exposing Disability Myths

This paper is one of a series aimed at exposing myths constantly promoted in the disability sector.  This particular paper focuses on abuse, neglect and violence concerning people with disabilities and the associated myth that more money and more training is the answer.

Abuse, Neglect and Violence

  • Exposing the More Money More Training Myth –

  1. The Myth

Increasingly, whenever serious issues are exposed in the disability sector, managers of funded agencies along with disability advocacy groups yell loudly in seeking to characterise the issues as having occurred because of inadequate funding.  The catch-cry then becomes one of - more money needs to be allocated to the sector -suggesting money is the issue.  As though if more is provided, the issues will miraculously disappear.  The call for more money is often directly linked to the cry for more training as well as increases in pay for direct care workers.

The recent serious abuse occurring at Yooralla, and as exposed on the ABC Four Corners program (24/11), highlighted a number of serious failures within that organisation – none of which had anything to do with money.  In any event, the issue of abuse and neglect is a failure of staff, at all levels, to meet their duty of care.  This also has nothing to do with money.  But, it has everything to do with culture, attitude and the failure of individuals to do a job.

It is a myth to suggest that money will fix the abuse, neglect and violence occurring in the disability sector as exposed by the Four Corners Program and highlighted by the Public Advocate in her 2014 Annual Report.  Those who make the call for more money ignore the legal concept of duty of care.  Indeed, by making the call for more money, while at the same time ignoring the duty of care failure, those who make such a call are also failing in their duty of care.

In the context of this paper it is essential to understand that duty of care is principally about not placing people in situations where they can be harmed; and it is also about not leaving people in situations where harm can continue to be perpetrated.

It is also essential to understand that the concept of abuse, neglect and violence is far wider than that of sexual abuse, albeit this is a most heinous type of abuse.  Abuse and neglect can either singularly or jointly consist of verbal, physical, ignoring, being demanding, failing to report, lack of adherence to health care and other needs, acting in a discriminatory way, or by workers not doing the job they are employed to do.  As such, when employed staff accept the remuneration package and conditions that apply to their individual position, to then make any claim that any abuse or neglect perpetrated was as a direct result of their pay packet or conditions is tantamount to saying that such behaviour is acceptable. 

Service providers, advocacy organisations and the watch dogs must front up to the fact that abuse, neglect and violence are just that – abuse, neglect and violence.  They must stop trying to minimise abuse in care by associating it with pay rates and conditions.  To link the two is diversionary, dishonest and unconscionable.

  1. Addressing the Real Issues

The real issues associated with abuse and neglect:

  1. Inadequate staff supervision

Structurally, all service providers operate in a hierarchical arrangement with different levels of management and supervisory levels responsible for direct care staff – noting that this applies to both residential and day services.

While it is acknowledged that it is generally not possible for all activities associated with direct care staff to be directly supervised at all times, nonetheless, an organisation that engenders a strong culture can minimise this issue.  In any event, the requirements of good supervision also demand strong observational abilities in order to identify pointers or clues that may suggest deficits in the way staff work with clients.  Additionally, effective supervision requires supervisors to role model positive behaviour towards clients, to undertake on-the-job staff training and to immediately address any deficits demonstrated by staff.

Effective supervision is not a money issue, it is about supervisors and managers doing their job.

  1. Failure to adhere to legislative obligations and policy and procedures

The Yooralla case clearly identified a failure at all levels right through to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Board, to meet their legislative obligations and follow the organisation’s policies and procedures.

Adherence to legislative obligations and policies and procedures is not a money issue.  It is simply about following the rules.

  1. Absence of or inadequate reporting

Again, the Yooralla case clearly identified a failure at particular supervisory and particular management levels, through to the CEO, to adhere to the reporting rules. 

Reporting of abuse or suspicions of abuse is not a money issue.  It is simply about following the requirements to report.

  1. Absence of or inadequate follow-up

Yet again, the Yooralla case clearly identified a failure at particular supervisory and particular management levels, through to the CEO, to follow-up as required.  Indeed, it was the absence of appropriate and timely follow-up that likely led to a situation where some of the abuse that was perpetrated could have perhaps been avoided.

And, yet again, the Yooralla case clearly identified a failure at particular supervisory and particular management levels, through to the CEO to follow-up as required. 

  1. Absence of, or inadequate application of, consequences

Although the perpetrators of rape have since been jailed and the CEO has resigned, allegedly as an own decision, consequences go far deeper than simply dealing with the perpetrators of abuse and neglect.

Duty of care is not simply limited to the actual direct care, or lack of, as associated with directly working with clients.  Duty of care is also about meeting requirements such as to report and follow-up.  As such, those who fail to do this are equally in breach of their duty of care.  It seems reasonable to conclude that those staff who failed in their duty to report or follow-up have not been brought to account. Equally, it also seems reasonable to conclude that the Board had not been brought to account.

So it is that the failure to apply appropriate consequences has nothing to do with money. It is about a willingness to call people to account and act in the best interests of clients.

  1. Required Action

It should be no mystery as to what has to happen to better address the abuse and neglect occurring in the disability sector.  The answer lies in the issues identified in (i) to (v) above.  It also lies in the underlying requirement and expectation that people will do their job - and not hide behind the diversionary excuse “we need more money”.

Max Jackson and Margaret Ryan

JacksonRyan Partners

Max Mobile:  0413 040 654                  Margaret Mobile:  0412 409 610                        8 December 2014

LISA Comment:  The catch cry of government direct care services, the traditional public service, is, "More Money, More Training and More Staff", as public service management, above house supervisor, is totally unable to set, monitor and maintain direct care staff work value expectations.  The level and quality of care in government group homes is almost totally dependent of direct care staff integrity, rather than management direction within service intention.  Therefore, level and quality of care swings between extremes.

With most non-government services in Victoria currently funded in the main by the state government, through the Department of Human Services (the department), this government department is responsible for these services, but fails to take responsibility, as the traditional public service culture and lore is, "It's all no one's responsibility!"  Any suggestion of responsibility is met with, in-denial, issue-avoidance and manouver every which way by all management levels above house supervisor.

Ombudsman, Victoria:  Media Release to io investigate disability services      

Federal Inquiry into disability Services   

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