Put people before process: Ombudsman tables Phase 2 report into disability abuse

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Process must not come before the rights of the individual when it comes to the reporting of abuse in the disability sector, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said today.

Tabling the second phase report, Reporting and investigation of allegations of abuse in the disability sector, Ms Glass said the system should support the people, not the other way around.

The investigation commenced in December 2014 with Phase One tabled in June 2015 focusing on the effectiveness of oversight.

Phase Two examines incident reporting and management in a range of environments for people with disability in Victoria.

The scale of the problem is still unknown, but the report contains over 25 case studies to illustrate issues with the reporting and investigation of incidents of abuse.

"What we found was that the person at the centre of an incident – the person with disability – is largely absent," Ms Glass said.

"Their voice is not recorded. There is a perception that it is not what has happened to them that matters but that forms are filled out and faxed within a prescribed timeframe.

"Incident reporting relies on an archaic, tick box process, where information flows one way and feedback to service providers is ad hoc – so opportunities to support people individually, or to learn and improve are curtailed.

"What does it say about the responsiveness of this process that it relies on a fax machine?"

Phase Two of the investigation also uncovered a deep fear of making reports from people with disability, their families and workers within the sector.

"People with disability and their families are afraid of making or pursuing complaints, for fear of withdrawal of funding or services, or that they will not be believed.

"Workers in disability services are afraid to report potential abuse, for fear of reprisal including loss of shifts or intimidation by supervisors."

In this phase, the Ombudsman recommends the introduction of mandatory reporting of abuse to an independent oversight body, with responsibility for ensuring that allegations of abuse are appropriately investigated and lessons are learned.

Recommendations also address the culture within many disability services including the wider protection of whistleblowers and improvement to procedures for investigation and review.

"The incident reporting system must be made fit for purpose, and a positive reporting culture is essential," Ms Glass said.

"People who make allegations of abuse should feel safe, supported and confident that appropriate action will be taken," she said.

"Strong support for decision making, and ensuring that there are safety nets and checks in place to guard against abuse, are the cornerstones of a respectful and sustainable disability framework," she said, echoing the recommendations made in phase one on support for advocacy and a single independent oversight body.

"The agencies involved in recent abuse scandals have learned the hard way – and Victorians with disability have paid an unacceptably high price.

"People who are unable to care for themselves require the most protection.

"Some have advocates – people who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

"Others have no‑one, and it is the silence of those voices that can be the most damning."

Report: Reporting and investigation of allegations in the disability sector: Phase 2 - incident reporting

Media contact: Mob 0409 936 235 | vomedia@ombudsman.vic.gov.au

Notes to editors


  • 1 million Victorians have a disability according to the ABS
  • 365,000 defined as having a profound or severe disability
  • 15,000 receive an Individual Support Package to help with individualised assistance, including day services, respite and care in the home
  • 5,000 live in government-funded accommodation
  • 4,000 live in privately owned and operated Supported Residential Services.

Phase Two evidence

  • 357 incidents reported to the Department of Health and Human Services
  • 19 incidents reported to the Transport Accident Commission involving its clients
  • 42 notifications about people with disability living in Supported Residential Services
  • 78 submissions from people with disability, their families, advocates, disability workers and academics, used in both phases of the investigation.