Ombudsman to investigate disability abuse reporting

Date posted:

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass today announced an investigation into how allegations of abuse in the disability sector are reported and investigated.

"Concerns in the sector and recent revelations in the media have prompted me to look closely at current practice to identify deficiencies in reporting and investigation," Ms Glass said.

"We also need to look at the support provided to some of the most vulnerable in our community when there are allegations of abuse," she said.

"Abuse of people with a disability is unconscionable in a civilised society.

"Something is wrong with our systems, and we need to understand what is broken and what can be done to fix it."

Data from the Disability Services Commissioner, the Office of the Public Advocate and the Victorian Ombudsman show continuing issues with the way in which incidents are reported and handled.

The data raises concerns of delay, lack of awareness and co‑ordination, poor investigation and poor communication with clients and families.

The investigation will cover services which include residential, respite and day programs funded by the Victorian Government.

It will also look at the oversight responsibilities of agencies including the Department of Human Services and the Disability Services Commissioner.

"The Public Advocate has told me that the high-profile cases of abuse are only the tip of the iceberg," Ms Glass said.

"Concerns about abuse will never be alleviated if people do not report allegations – or if those reports are not taken seriously and investigated thoroughly," she said.

"We also need to examine the effectiveness of those charged with oversight of the system – and to highlight areas where there may be no oversight at all.

"It is particularly important as Victoria begins to roll out the National Disability Insurance Scheme that we have robust reporting and escalation processes in place, and that any gaps in oversight have been identified and addressed.

"Looking to the future, the aging population and anticipated higher rates of disability may well mean an increase in the provision of these services.

"We all have a vested interest in ensuring that the human rights of people with disabilities are rigorously defended.

"I am keen to hear directly from people who have had experience of reporting abuse, as clients, family members or staff in the sector.

"This will be invaluable in shaping my understanding of the extent of the problems and making recommendations to effectively deal with them."

The investigation is focused on the process of reporting and investigation. Any specific allegations of abuse should be made to Victoria Police.

Submissions should be lodged by 15 February 2015.

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  • There are one million Victorians – or 18.4% of the population – with some form of disability.
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that over 338,000 Victorians have a ‘profound’ or ‘severe’ disability.
  • There are currently 296 organisations funded to deliver disability services. This covers both provision by the Victorian Government, and Community Service Organisations (CSOs) with funding from the Victorian Government.
  • Department of Human Services reports providing 5,041 community based shared accommodation beds.

Data from the Disability Services Commissioner (DSC)

  • The DSC reported 309 category 1 incidents during 2013-14. Category one incidents are the most severe and may include death or serious injury, missing persons or sexual assault.
  • It is estimated that around 30 complaints in the last year reported to the DSC concerned discrimination, abuse, neglect, intimidation, assault or bullying.
  • In addition, the DSC receives annual reports from disability service providers on the number of complaints they receive and how they are resolved. In 2013-14 there were 1,647 new complaints over 311 service providers.

The Office of the Public Advocate (OPA)

  • Community visitors are volunteers in the OPA who visit a range of facilities including those for people with disabilities.
  • In 2013-14, community visitors reported 147 cases of abuse, neglect and assault in the disability sector.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC)

  • In July 2014, VEOHRC released their report - Beyond doubt: the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime.
  • It reports that people with disabilities comprise between two and five percent of victims of crime in Victoria – a low rate given the 18.4% of Victorians with disabilities.
  • The report concludes that ‘this under-representation suggests that cases are either not reported, are not making it through the justice system, or that disability has not been identified'.