The Never Ending Story of Disability Abuse
The significant problem of sexual and other forms of abuse occurring in disability accommodation settings was, yet again exposed by the ABC 4 Corners Fighting the System program (27/3/2017).
The failure of the responsible Ministers, senior bureaucrats, service managers and watchdog entities to reign in the abuse is shameful. Yet, no one is held to account for this failure.
A 2015 Senate Inquiry and an Inquiry of the Victorian Parliament into disability abuse each confirmed that sexual and other forms of abuse are rife in disability group homes. Yet, the responses of those with the power to actually do something continue to fail people with disabilities and their families. The Federal Government has rejected the Senate Inquiry’s call for a Royal Commission. An obvious example of people with disabilities not considered worth the expenditure, unlike the Royal Commission into children abused in institutional care.
Significantly, the 4 Corners program highlighted how spin and a lack of will or knowhow are alive and well. Anyone who watched the program could not help but feel the pain experienced by the families and their intellectually disabled family member who were interviewed. But what did we hear from the Federal Minister responsible for Disability, Christian Porter, and Victoria’s Minister, Martin Foley? Each staked their hope that the yet to be finalised Quality and Safeguarding Framework that will accompany the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), will address the abuse. Neither dared mention that a recent announcement from the NDIS advised that the Quality and Safeguarding Framework will not come into effect until the full roll-out of the NDIS, which is not due to occur until 2020.
So, what are the current safeguards and how will sexual and other abuse be countered between now and 2020? They are and will continue to be as they have been for years. They will continue to be the same systems and bureaucratic responses that have shown their inability to protect people with disabilities from abuse, and to prosecute consequences when abuse does occur.
Successive Secretaries and senior managers of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and its various iterations have failed people with disabilities. The 1986 Intellectually Disabled Persons Services Act, which came into effect about the time the first group homes were established, identified “the welfare” of people with intellectual disabilities as being “the first and paramount consideration.” Its replacement, the Disability Act 2006 emphasises the right of people with disabilities to “live free from, abuse, neglect or exploitation.” But, abuse has continued unabated. Families who complain are either ignored or diverted, staff are restricted in what they can say and abuse is covered up.
Community Visitors who have the authority to visit disability residential settings have no real power, all they can do is report. By contrast the Disability Services Commissioner (DSC), who does have the power to investigate complaints made to him and call-out offending service providers, including DHHS, has only recently begun to initiate investigations. This has only occurred as a result of significant criticisms arising from the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry.
For decades, DHHS has had an Incident Reporting system. This system has required service providers and individual staff to report abuse, but it has failed. A replacement system that was only recently announced by DHHS will also fail, because the matter of consequences has been left out of the revised system. When sexual and other abuse does occur the reasonable expectation is that the abuser will face consequences. Not always so. There appears to be a reluctance of many in authority to hold abusers to account. Instead cover-up is often the first action.
Minister Foley’s response to the abuse exposed by the 4 Corners program that the cases were “sad” was insipid. Minister Foley and his department, DHHS, have statutory responsibilities and authorities to protect people with disabilities from abuse. When are they going to act and what are they going to do about the sexual and other abuse - or will they sit back and wait for the NDIS? Sexual abuse is not new. The requirement to counter it is not new. Yet, it continues to be exposed. And when it is, we hear the same responses from those in authority as to how terrible it is and the systems changes they now intend to make to counter it.
Let there be no confusion or doubt. The failure to combat sexual and other forms of abuse is not a system’s problem. It is a people problem: people who fail to respect people with disabilities, people who fail to report abuse, people who fail to adequately supervise and monitor and people who fail to prosecute consequences for the abusers.
What an abhorrent indictment that accountability and responsibility take a back seat.
The never-ending abuse is not a cultural issue, as the authorities would have us believe. It is about the failure of those in authority to hold criminals to account.
Former CEO, Kew Cottages and Disability Advocate
LISA Inc. Comment:
The Four Corners Program was another examole of the media cherry picking the brightlights They don't want to know about that which leads to abuse and neglect behind closed doors, the failure of service provider management to consistently set, monitor and maintain direct care staff work value expectations.: