An Aboriginal man was unable to visit his dying mother in the weeks before her death due to a lack of disability supports, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been told.
This disturbing story was included in a submission in response to the Disability Royal Commission’s Issues Paper on First Nations People with Disability, prepared by Connecting Home, an independent Aboriginal Organisation supporting survivors of the Stolen Generations across South Eastern Australia, and the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA).
The man was only able to attend his mother’s funeral after an OPA guardian advocated for him with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which had initially refused to fund the required disability transport.
Although he had grown up in regional Victoria, the man, who was middle-aged, was living in aged care in Melbourne as there was no suitable disability housing or supports for him in his hometown.
Connecting Home Chair, Ian Hamm, said the lack of culturally safe disability services in regional areas, as highlighted by this case, meant that vulnerable First Nation people were often retraumatised when they engaged with the NDIS.
“The negative experience of those survivors of the Stolen Generations has led to a sense of fear or mistrust around government and other services, as those institutions have historically been oppressive, both for First Nations persons and people with disability,” Mr Hamm said.
“For Stolen Generations members, the settings in which disability and mental health services are delivered can ignite past trauma and lead to a feeling of being re-institutionalised.”
The Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, said this was a troubling but far from unique case.
“As we wrote in our 2018 report, The Illusion of Choice and Control, people with challenging and complex support needs struggle to obtain adequate supports under the NDIS.” Dr Pearce said.
The man, who has mild intellectual disability and an acquired brain injury, is prone to violent outbursts and no disability service would work with him without a comprehensive behaviour management plan.
It took his guardian more than a year of advocacy to obtain funding for such a plan through the NDIS and was yet to be enacted at the time of his mother’s death.
“Many of OPA’s clients have multiple disabilities requiring various forms of support, often compounded by experiences of trauma,” Dr Pearce said. “They may experience issues with interpersonal engagement, such that they have limited family support and/or are unable to live with others. Their challenging behaviours can put themselves or others at risk of harm.”
OPA’s and Connecting Homes’ submission makes six recommendations and proposes a holistic and person-centred practice framework. The submission argues that this is key to creating better outcomes; to develop an understanding that is flexible and responsive and therefore allows for services and supports to be easily moulded to individual circumstances.