Celebrating 30 years of Community Guardians
The Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, said: “Victoria’s Community Guardianship Program is unique in Australia. It was set up as part of the vision of the first Public Advocate, Ben Bodna AM, to give a represented person someone from their community who cared about them and would build a relationship of trust, giving their time and energy freely without any payment.
“Thirty years on, Community Guardians continue to give this precious gift to people with a disability on behalf of the community. The Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) honours them and values all that they do in building a community of respect and inclusion for people with disabilities.”
OPA was set up at a time where there was a growing recognition that people with disability were generally excluded from society, often living in institutions with little or no contact with the wider community, and that this situation must change.
The voluntary guardians helped break down the isolation that many people with disability experienced and gave the community the opportunity to accept responsibility and be involved in the lives of Victoria’s forgotten citizens.
Through their work with individuals, voluntary guardians were also able to identify systemic issues which OPA could then act upon.
At the conference, the program’s first coordinator and former acting Public Advocate, Barbara Carter, interviewed OPA’s longest-serving Community Guardian, Alison Gribble, in front of an audience of more than 200 volunteers.
Alison, who has been a volunteer Community Guardian for 29 years, noted that when she started OPA was much smaller organisation and volunteering was a very intimate and personal way to work with staff. She said that while she was always very much accepted and valued by professionals, working with families was sometimes a challenge, especially when they couldn’t agree with what was the best for their loved ones. Alison cited the support she received from OPA, as well as the knowledge she was helping people in the community, as the positives of the role.
“Every time you make a decision is a highlight,” she said.
While the program has evolved over the years and the number of paid guardians, who take on multiple and complex cases, has expanded, the role of volunteer guardians is more important than ever.
A new Guardianship Act that has an explicit focus on human rights and individual advocacy comes into effect in March 2020 and, in light of this, the program been reviewed, and the role of volunteer guardians has been expanded. In addition to providing guardianship, the volunteer guardians, now to be known as Community Advocate Guardians, will be able to take on individual advocacy, augmenting the work of OPA’s paid advocate guardians.
Dr Pearce said: “OPA is deeply grateful to the Community Guardians who have done so over more than 30 years and looks forward to supporting the Community Advocate Guardians in upholding and promoting the rights of all people with disability in the community in the future.”