Family and Community Development Committee: abuse in disability services
Statement on report
I rise to speak on the final report of the inquiry into abuse in disability services that was tabled in this house on 26 May this year.
I was very pleased to be a member of that committee.
The committee heard from over 100 witnesses as it toured throughout regional Victoria and of course held hearings in Melbourne.
We inspected a number of sites during the tours.
I would like to thank the committee secretariat, comprising Dr Greg Gardiner, Dr Kelly Butler and Helen Ross-Soden, for their outstanding contributions in the preparation of the report. In particular I would like to congratulate the committee chairman, the member for Bendigo West, for her passion and commitment to this inquiry, and also the deputy chairman, the member for Eildon, for her dedication to the production of the report.
Members may recall that this terrible issue of abuse of disabled members of our community residing in disability residential care came to the fore in the Four Corners program on 24 November 2014. The program highlighted failures in the system in our state in dealing with allegations of abuse in disability services, and in that case it was Yooralla that was the subject of the program. The Four Corners program looked at how a well-respected disability service provider failed in its duty to protect those in its care. It detailed dreadful abuse of vulnerable people and highlighted the failure to take proper note of the warnings of whistleblowers and others.
The committee was tasked with inquiring into why abuse is not reported or acted upon and how it can be prevented. The recommendations in the report were to consider the interim measures necessary to strengthen the disability services system in Victoria prior to the introduction of the national disability insurance scheme and to focus on the powers and processes required to ensure a quality and safeguarding framework. The inquiry was wide ranging, and the report is a substantial one. We looked at the work of the disability services commissioner, and we considered complaints from many people about how reports were handled when they were actually made and many other criticisms of the system. A lot of recommendations have been made. Some of the important ones I think are for the mandatory reporting of abuse and around the processes for reporting. We looked at the disability workforce and made recommendations about better training and workforce selection.
An issue we considered which I took a particular interest in was that of gender in the prevention of abuse. The committee heard evidence that women with disability are more likely to experience abuse compared with men with disability. We heard that in an overview of relevant academic literature Ms Keran Howe found that overseas studies indicate that women with disabilities are raped and abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population of women and that 83 per cent of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Throughout the inquiry the committee also heard evidence about the abuse of men with disability in disability services. At the Shepparton hearings, a mother told the committee that her son was first sexually assaulted at the age of nine. He continued to be sexually assaulted by disability support workers as a young man. It was truly terrible to see the grief of this mother, who more than anything wanted to care for her son and felt that she had been unable to do so and who had lost trust in the services available.
The evidence that was received by the committee overwhelmingly referred to abuse of people with disability being perpetrated by males. In these circumstances, it was important that this issue be appropriately addressed. The committee therefore recommended that the Disability Act 2006 be amended to provide that the gender preference of people with disability be recorded. In other words, their preference as to whether a male or female person provides their intimate care must be recorded, and it was my very strong view that in circumstances where a person is unable to make that election because of their disability a female support worker must be provided.
It was truly very saddening to hear much of the evidence of abuse. Parents suffered extraordinary distress in their efforts to ensure safety and proper care for their children. A mother, Michelle, brought in a photo of her daughter Erin to show us. As she spoke to us showing us the photo, she said, and I quote from the transcript:
She is a little girl, my little girl, who is profoundly disabled, and I would ask the committee for a brief moment to imagine that this little girl is your little girl, that she is your daughter, your granddaughter, perhaps a niece, perhaps a sister — because her life has great value and she is very real.
The distress of parents was palpable throughout the hearings. I hope that this report will give them some comfort, that the recommendations will be adopted by the government and that we will see an improvement in the standard of the way we care for vulnerable disabled people in our community.