OPA supports more than 650 volunteers who provide support for people with disability or mental illness across Victoria.
OPA's volunteers are from a variety of backgrounds, age groups, and communities. They work across three programs: Community Visitor Program, Independent Third Persons Program and the Community Guardianship Program. They fulfil their responsibilities with professionalism, compassion, and with the rights of people with disability in mind at all times.
Independent Third Persons (ITPs) attend police interviews for adults and young people with disability to ensure that they are not disadvantaged during the interview process. Police interviews often require people to comprehend complex issues and information quickly, understand their legal rights, and be able to communicate with people in positions of authority.
ITPs are trained to support and assist the person with disability through the interview process by:
- facilitating communication between the person and police
- providing assistance to contact a lawyer, relative or friend if requested
- helping the person understand their rights and any legal advice given
- informing police if they observe that the person does not fully understand their rights or circumstances at any stage of the process
- ensuring the person understands the questions asked by police, which may involve requesting the police to rephrase a question
- requesting a break during an interview if the person is becoming distressed or is unable to concentrate.
ITPs are independent of the police process and cannot instruct a person with disability on how to deal with the issue they are facing or provide legal advice.
Victoria Police members are responsible for contacting an ITP to attend an interview.
Corrections Independent Support Officers
Corrections Independent Support Officers (CISO) are volunteer Independent Third Persons (ITPs) and OPA staff who provide assistance and support to prisoners with a diagnosed intellectual disability during disciplinary hearings, at all adult prisons in Victoria.
A CISO actively participates in the disciplinary hearings process by:
- explaining to the prisoner what their rights are at a prison disciplinary hearing
- judging whether the prisoner understands their rights and can freely exercise them before the hearing can commence
- facilitating communication and supporting the prisoner through the hearing process.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) appoint guardians for people with disability. Wherever possible VCAT will appoint a relative or friend as guardian, but in certain cases, VCAT may appoint the Public Advocate. The Public Advocate can then delegate this power of guardianship to a guardian employed by OPA or to a volunteer participating in the OPA Community Guardian program.
The key responsibilities of Community Guardians are to: promote the best interests of the person with disability ensure that decisions are the least restrictive to the person’s freedom take into account the wishes of the person and, where possible, put them into effect.