Community Visitors essential safeguard for vulnerable Victorians
Thursday 20 September 2018
Abuse, violence and neglect continue to be an issue for some of Victoria’s most vulnerable residents living in group homes, according to this year’s Community Visitors Annual Report, tabled in parliament today.
Community Visitors identified 3914 issues, including 160 involving abuse or neglect, in 2017-2018. Some 105 issues were referred to the Disability Services Commissioner, while 13 of the most serious cases, including physical and sexual assault, psychological abuse and financial abuse, were escalated as formal notifications to the Public Advocate.
One of the most serious cases involved a resident with an intellectual disability, autism, severe anxiety and challenging behaviour who had assaulted both other residents and staff at the Southern Metropolitan Melbourne facility (p57).
Victoria’s Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, said Community Visitors played an essential safeguarding role, especially for those unable to fully communicate their experiences or needs.
“Community Visitors are dedicated advocates who pursue the resolution of concerns both for and with the residents they support,” Dr Pearce said.
For example, in one instance they followed up unexplained serious bruising on a resident in Northern Metropolitan Melbourne that was later found to be consistent with physical abuse (p52). This led to the suspension of a staff member.
Last year, 255 trained volunteer Community Visitors made 2896 unannounced visits to 1195 government-run and regulated group homes. However, the future of Community Visitors under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is unclear.
“Community Visitors are particularly concerned about their ability to visit disability accommodation facilities when the NDIS is fully implemented in Victoria in July 2019,” Ms Pearce said.
“They have been an integral part of Victoria’s safeguarding system for more than 30 years and, without them, there will be a significant gap in the NDIS safeguarding regime. This could lead to situations where abuse and neglect of people with disability is unobserved and unreported.”
Documenting and reporting issues and ensuring they are escalated to the appropriate body for investigation is one of the most important roles of the Community Visitor. However, when Community Visitors are unable to access a facility’s incident reports, as required by law, they are limited in their capacity to report on serious incidents and advocate for residents.
For example, in one case a Hume resident wrote to Community Visitors detailing 15 separate allegations of verbal and physical abuse (p 49). While the facility stood down a staff member pending an internal investigation, Community Visitors were not able to access the relevant incident reports.
In another case in Northern Metropolitan Melbourne, Community Visitors could not find documentation relating to a resident who had choked to death after eating food in another resident’s room (p 53).
- Community Visitors report 64% increase in mental health violence >>
- Review suitability of accommodation for frail aged: Community Visitors >>