OPA Updates - June 2024

Colleen Pearce 2021 headMessage from the Public Advocate

Approaching the end of the financial year

As we approach the end of this financial year, I am amazed at how quickly this year is going, and I am filled with trepidation and excitement for the future. 

After 17 fulfilling years of service in this position, I have decided that it is time for a change. This decision was not made lightly, but it reflects my deep satisfaction with the progress we have collectively achieved for and with people with disability in Victoria.

I look forward to catching up with friends and colleagues in the sector before I officially leave OPA in October. 

National Reconciliation Week

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that today is the last day of National Reconciliation Week. This week is a crucial time to focus on the experiences of Aboriginal people with disability.

As a proud Yuin woman, I am pleased to share that my office is on a truth telling journey. We have reflected on the experiences of Aboriginal people with disability who engage with our programs. OPA recognises that for Aboriginal people with disability, engaging with services can be difficult and cannot be separated from the impacts and barriers arising from colonisation and the resulting dispossession, the impact of the Stolen Generation, intergenerational trauma and racism. 

Coupled with this, many also carry the heavy burden of trauma, poor mental health and wellbeing and/or past engagement with Child Protection, factors that heighten the risk of engagement with the criminal justice system.

I look forward to releasing a report of our findings later this year as well as the next steps for OPA to improve our services.  In the meantime, please check out Walk with Me, Talk with Me: Practice guide for OPA staff providing services to Aboriginal people with disability in Victoria. 

Victorian Auditor General's Report

In 2023-24, the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) audited the work of OPA. This audit concluded with the report ‘Guardianship and decision-making for vulnerable adults’ being tabled in Parliament.

The audit recognises the complexity of the multidimensional services OPA provides. I am pleased that the report acknowledges positive findings, including highlighting several initiatives already underway.

OPA has accepted ten recommendations in full and three recommendations in principle subject to additional resources being made available.

The recommendations directed at OPA are about improving:   

  • documentation  
  • how we engage with clients
  • training and guidance for staff 
  • how we collect and use data 
  • planning and oversight.   

The 3 recommendations directed to both OPA and the Department of Justice and Community Safety are about improving:   

  • planning and recruitment processes 
  • performance measures.  

OPA is committed to responding to these findings to ensure we continue striving for best practice for the people we work with and for. We view the findings of the VAGO audit as an opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow stronger in our mission.  

OPA remains steadfast in our commitment to serve with compassion and respect, ensuring that our actions contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. 

We are grateful for the continued support of the community and our stakeholders as we undertake these important improvements. Together, we can create a positive impact and uphold the rights and dignity of every individual we serve.  

I want to thank VAGO as well as the staff and stakeholders who contributed their time and experience to ensure the audit and associated report were a thorough and accurate reflection of our work. 

You can download our factsheet explaining this report and our response. Further information is available on our website.

Advice Friday drop-in information sessions

Have a general question or query about processes and information you’ve seen on the OPA website?

OPA's Advice and Education service conducts fortnightly online drop-in information sessions every second Friday from 1-2pm, with sessions on Friday 14 June and 28 June.

For more information and a link to join, visit Advice service drop-in sessions.

Please adhere to privacy and confidentiality when participating in this session.

For detailed advice on a particular matter, please call our Advice Service on 1300 309 337 for a private chat.

RSVPs are not necessary; just join on the day.

Contact [email protected] if you have any accessibility requirements.

Seeking volunteers to support people with disability in police interviews

OPA's Independent Third Persons (ITPs) are trained volunteers who 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 receive ongoing training and support and play a crucial safeguarding role for people with disability during police interviews, whether they be an alleged offender, witness or victim.

We are now recruiting suitable people throughout Victoria to be trained as ITPs. There is a particularly critical need for additional volunteers in Horsham, Ballarat and the inner north of metropolitan Melbourne.

For more information or to apply, visit OPA Volunteers - Office of the Public Advocate or phone 1300 309 337.

Huge interest in Healthy Discussions presentations

Last month, OPA delivered presentations aimed at improving communication between people with disability and health practitioners to more than 110 people through self-advocacy organisations. 

There was a particularly high interest in the sessions from people living with an acquired brain injury and their support staff, highlighting that is a significant issue for many in this cohort. Preciously, in Experiences of ABI and inclusion, an OPA submission to the Disability Royal Commission, people with an acquired brain injury had told us that they often felt excluded and ignored.

These sessions were in addition to those already running for hospitals and health services.

These presentations include:

  • practical tips for effective communication and engagement with people with disability
  • information about the practitioner's obligations under the Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016
  • practical tips for effective communication and engagement with people with disability
  • the voices of people with lived experience of disability.

If you would like more information or to get involved, please contact the Healthy Discussions and Supported Discussions teams at [email protected]

Supported Decision-Making Project filming day

From left: Anat Bigos, Colin Hiscoe AM, Dr Colleen Pearce AM, Jane Rosengrave – Proud Yorta Yorta Woman and Victoria Cini.

Last month, members of OPA's Lived Experience Advisory Committee came together to create a short film focusing on human rights and the role of supported decision-making in promoting the human rights of people with disability. 

The script was created in conjunction with OPA staff, members of the Lived Experience Advisory Committee and a professional filmmaker, and filmed at the Grand Ballroom in St Kilda.

Scenes from filming day

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