A report has found serious abuse and neglect of adults with disability in community settings, including the family home, and has called for the establishment of a public advocate with powers to investigate.
Over 200 allegations of abuse and neglect were reported over the last three years, the NSW Ombudsman’s report released this month says.
Ombudsman Michal Barnes said NSW had led the way in cracking down on neglect in disability accommodation, and in December 2014 became the first state in Australia to introduce laws requiring the reporting and oversight of allegations of abuse and neglect in disability services.
The NDIS quality and safety watchdog now has oversight of NDIS providers, but because family and community members are not providers there is currently no-one to hold them to account.
“The inquiry has identified highly vulnerable adults who are living in atrocious circumstances, and experiencing serious and ongoing abuse and neglect,” Mr Barnes said.
“Our inquiry has shown that there is horrendous abuse occurring in family homes and other community settings that needs to be addressed.”
The inquiry had highlighted “the urgent need for better safeguards and protections for vulnerable adults in the community,” he added.
Vulnerable people at risk
The report, Abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults in NSW – the need for action, follows a two-year standing investigation which focused on 206 reports of alleged abuse and neglect.
The complaints related to the conduct of family members, informal supports, friends and members of the community.
Of the 260 matters investigated, 110 related to alleged abuse or neglect of an adult with an intellectual disability while 11 involved people with a solely physical disability.
Most abuse was allegedly perpetrated by family members or a partner. More than 140 reports were about family members (99 parents and 31 siblings) and 35 related to a partner or spouse. Ten allegedly involved community members.
The report contains a series of disturbing case studies, which detail the action taken and how the matter was resolved, sometimes by removing the person from their home or appointing a public guardian.
Seventy-eight of the reports involved neglect, 77 physical abuse, 52 financial abuse and 24 sexual abuse.
The report also received reports of ill-treatment including blocking access to supports, removing items or activities as punishment or putting the person to bed early against their wishes.
Need for an independent agency
Mr Barnes said the introduction of the NDIS meant the standing inquiry was only a termporary measure and “there is an urgent need for an effective, integrated framework and independent lead agency for responding to the abuse and neglect of all vulnerable adults in community settings in NSW.”
He recommended the establishment of an independent statutory position of public advocate which could instigate its own investigations or act on a complaint. An advocate should also have powers to execute search warrants, demand documents, conduct interviews and play a role in legal cases.
The same agency that looks at disability abuse should also examine elder abuse “as part of an integrated approach to safeguarding vulnerable adults”, the report recommends.
The ombudsman’s office was currently the only agency equipped to investigate complaints of community abuse of people with disability but was limited in its powers, including the ability to enter homes and get direct access to an alleged victim, he said.
The Ombudsman’s office will end its inquiry on July 1, leaving a gap that would “present unacceptable risks to an already vulnerable and marginalised cohort of our community”, Mr Barnes said.
You can read the full report here.