DHS Victoria under fire - Calls for a Royal Commission
There are fears for the integrity of internal DHS investigations into physical and sexual
abuse claims after the appointment of former union officials to key roles
Peter Mickelburough Herald Sun November 09, 2012
The appointment of former union officials to a Department of Human Services ethical standards unit, which investigates accusations of physical and sexual assault against vulnerable children and disabled persons by staff and carers, has sparked calls for a royal commission.
The Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability has blown the whistle on the "fundamental" conflict of interest.
It comes a day after the Herald Sun revealed DHS had axed more than half its incident-reporting categories, despite a surge in assaults and sex attacks against its clients.
State-appointed watchdog Community Visitors has also sounded the alarm about the "accuracy", "lack of clarity" and "inconsistent practice" of the new reporting system.
Chairperson and Public Advocate Colleen Pearce warned incidents - particularly those involving staff and carers - could go unreported.
Children and disabled DHS clients are most likely to be attacked by DHS staff or appointed carers, with more than one such incident reported every day.
VALID executive officer Kevin Stone said the number of abuse cases it handled rose sharply in the past year, but fewer were being properly investigated by DHS since it set up a four-person ethical standards unit in June.
"We're concerned that it's an internal unit and that the person appointed to run it and another senior investigator - so two out of four investigators - are straight from the union. There's a fundamental conflict there," he said.
Mr Stone said the unit was a cost-cutting move that had seen a dramatic fall in matters referred to independent investigators.
Internal memos reveal DHS has sought to bring investigations "back in house for a while" and that all misconduct matters are to be referred to the unit.
Mr Stone said only a royal commission would expose the extent of problems in DHS.
The recently released 2011-12 annual report of Community Visitors says: "There is still a real possibility that no incident report will be prepared in the instance of staff-to-resident abuse ... and that serious incidents will escape unnoticed due to incorrect categorisation."
Community Visitors is a volunteer group empowered by law to visit state accommodation facilities for people with a disability or mental illness at any time to monitor the adequacy of service.
Many Community Visitors reported being told by senior managers that they routinely rewrote original reports to remove what they deemed were inappropriate comments.
Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge's spokesman Michael Moore said the claims were "ill-informed, because the new processes are actually improving transparency and accountability".
LISA Comment: Questionable practices around abuse and neglect of vulnerable people have been occurring since time immemorial, as people with disabilities and their families an not valued.
The media love the splash-in-the-pond hype - reader grabbing headlines. The bureaucrats keep their heads down, as the pond is quickly calm again.
The matter is soon forgotten by all except those who suffer at the hands of a service which has little or no proper, consistent and proactive management to actively ensure consistent and overall quality of life care within the direction, intention and spirit of the department's extensive and comprehensive care policies, standards and values.
The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry Hearings, back in 2008, identified most of that which creates, or fail to suppress questionable activities and service provision which have the potential to culminate into intimidation, neglect and abuse. But it was all placed in the too hard basket, as it is almost impossible to achieve market place customer value and customer service in a captive market where few work value expectations are set, monitored and maintained on direct care staff - just that they shall appear at their workplace.
Let us identify the real elephant-in-the-room. The overall failure of the management of Disability Services to properly, consistently and proactively manage the business of ensuring the consistent quality of life care within the direction, intention and spirit of the department's comprehensive and extensive care policies, standards and values.
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