The Ombudsman’s report on abuse of people with disability shows they need advocates and oversight systems to protect them. The Ombudsman’s report on abuse of people with disability, tabled in Parliament this week, has given Victoria the chance to lead the nation in protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens.
By acting on this report, Victoria can set an example for the developing National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in the critical areas of oversight and advocacy – aspects that have not yet been settled in the federal scheme.
There are an estimated 1 million Victorians with disability, and more than 338,200 have a profound or severe disability. While many people with disability live at home, more than 5000 people live in state-funded disability-supported accommodation. These people and their families have entrusted the state to support and care for them, and yet the cases and figures contained in the Ombudsman’s report show how the system has failed them.
More than 8000 “category one” incidents resulting in serious outcomes such as severe trauma or death were reported in disability-supported accommodation by service providers between 2010 and 2014. And this is in the absence of a mandatory reporting system.
As the Public Advocate, I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the Ombudsman reported, Victoria has a “mishmash” of legislative, financial and service-delivery arrangements and a system that is fundamentally failing to deliver protection for people with a disability. The system is so fragmented that it is impossible to even quantify the problem.
The Ombudsman’s report includes some shocking case studies that expose the inadequacies of the system: responses to abuse are often too little, too late or do not come at all. This leaves people with disability living in fear of violence in their own homes.
Despite her concerns, the Ombudsman reports there are areas of good practice among the agencies responsible, including the Disability Services Commissioner, the Community Visitors Program, Senior Practitioner, and my office.
The Ombudsman identifies the areas of competence and makes key recommendations to fix the rest of the system. She identifies the need for mandatory reporting so that the extent of abuse can be exposed, monitored, measured and analyzed systematically. This is long overdue.
The Ombudsman’s first recommendation is to bring oversight under the umbrella of a single authority, either a new agency or an existing one with clear powers to investigate abuses. The Ombudsman says the present system is fragmented, complicated and confusing, even to those who work in the field.
Her second recommendation is to boost funding for advocacy so that people with disabilities are properly supported to report abuse and make complaints, as well as to be more empowered to make choices under the NDIS.
The Ombudsman’s recommendations come at a critical point when the future of safety and services for people with disabilities are being determined at state and federal level. A Victorian parliamentary committee is examining abuse of people with disabilities and the Ombudsman’s recommendations are aimed squarely in that direction.
Even more significantly, the key oversight issues associated with the NDIS are only now being considered before full implementation. The NDIS is a market model designed to provide choices for people with disabilities. However, what has been almost forgotten is that a number of people with cognitive impairments may not have the resources and support they need to make complex decisions about the services they receive, particularly those without families. They need advocates to help them and they need oversight systems that protect them from abuse.
Victoria should take this opportunity to show national leadership by fixing the crisis in disability abuse and establish the best model of oversight and advocacy for the NDIS to follow. The Ombudsman has identified a pathway for Victoria to shine.