Kelly in the Media

Kelly Vincent – ABC Radio Adelaide Interivew on protecting children with disabilities from abuse

Deb Tribe interviewing David Holst, Maurice Corcoran, Kelly Vincent and Peter Sandeman

David Holst, Chair, Intellectual Disability Association of SA

Deb Tribe: We have been talking to Linton Besser ahead of tonight’s program ‘Fighting the System’, about the abuse, both physical and sexual, of people with disabilities and how often the perpetrators are going unpunished. It’s a terrible situation but I imagine it’s an expose that would be no surprise to our next guest, parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability. Unfortunately there are some high profile South Australian cases but I imagine that you would be aware anecdotally of many crimes that go unpunished here in South Australia.

David Holst: Oh look when you are part of the disability network and you read the blogs and you read the reports and you read the websites, you are talking about something that is just absolutely terrifying for the parent of every child with a disability that their child will not be safe. You know my daughter is 32, she is a very beautiful young lady but she has the capacity in some ways of about a 2 year old. She can’t defend herself, she can’t speak and right from when she was a little child, when she was about four or five years old a taxi used to come to our house at Flagstaff Hill every day and she used to go in the taxi down to Regency to a special program down there and you would put her in the cab and she would drive off and you’d just think ‘oh my God what’s going to happen, is something going to happen’. It is a nightmare waiting to happen for so many parents and the evidence is that it does happen a lot.

Deb Tribe: That’s right, it is a very justified fear to have. David, do you believe that the concerns of parents are treated with the respect that they deserve from government departments, from caring agencies when in fact they are raised?

David Holst: The government departments and the various agencies are full of good people and they certainly have nothing but good intent, but by the very nature of the complaints it is almost impossible to get to the bottom of the story in so many instances. In the olden days when there was institutional care there was a higher evidence of people being abused and of course now most people, including my daughter, don’t live in institutional care, they live in smaller houses with one or two or three other people but they’re spread all over Adelaide. I think you would be naïve to think that that means that there is less abuse because there is actually less scrutiny and there is less chance of someone being interrupted or caught or sprung out. While the data, of which there is very little, doesn’t paint a clear picture, common sense and parental fear tells you that in quiet, things out of the ways when no-one’s watching who knows what happens.

Deb Tribe: Yeah, you’re missing those levels of supervision?

David Holst: Absolutely, very quickly the debate goes in all sorts of directions and it goes into you know should children have male and female carers? Should you use electronic material? We’ve seen instances where families have planted a camera in an aged care facility and seen people abusing an old person. The politics and the discussions on philosophy and privacy don’t always add up to the common sense outcomes that provide the biggest protection. So there is risk and unfortunately there are people in the world who are predisposed to doing things that you and I would think of as abhorrent but they do them anyhow.

Deb Tribe: That’s right David and you have to do the sums, whether it’s cheaper to have CCTV and compromise potentially people’s right to privacy over whether or not it’s greater to better to provide greater supervision, etcetera, but David do you agree with what Linton Besser from Four Corners had to say about needing a regulator that has teeth?

David Holst: Look there is clearly a need for stronger regulation, in my opinion there should be compulsory centralised reporting of every issue and instance that’s raised by all sorts of organisations and those sort of regulators should, have resources to do thorough investigations. Understanding that those investigations are going to be massively complex and time consuming and awkward. My daughter can’t speak, she can’t tell you what people did to her.

Deb Tribe: Exactly, you might have a feeling but what can you do?

David Holst: Exactly, we’ve had cases. St Ann’s Special School at Marion had an issue a few years ago with a bus driver and young boys and that went on for a fair while and ultimately it ended up in court, South Australia has been innovative in some of the law changes in regard to testimony and what’s acceptable in court, but that said it is still almost an impossibility. When you have people who ring you that say ‘my sister lives in supported care and she is swapping sexual favours for a can of Coke with the next door neighbours’. It makes you want to vomit, the responsibility of care it is so complicated in circumstances, but you would think the approach should be that the protection and the safety should take number one priority above all else, not the rights of you know which worker should be employed or which gender or which place and you know the scrutiny of police clearance. That’s a pretty simple process but it doesn’t touch on some of the training, it is happening, it will be happening today in South Australia and it will continue to happen until something is seriously done to put much more regulation across it than what we have now.

Deb Tribe: Absolutely, just a last question to you because it’s something that we’re concerned at, having put the call out to various caring agencies, none of which wanted to take part in this discussion, and Leanne from Kilburn says she thinks it says a lot that none of those bodies were willing to take part in the conversation. She says, ‘There’s no accountability from those who are entrusted to care for the most vulnerable people in our society’. What’s your view on why they’re not part of today’s discussion?

David Holst: It’s because the laws of the land give equal rights to every person seeking employment, any of those care agencies cannot reject on gender a male to work in a female accommodation environment. Those sort of laws are things that should be discussed and options should be available. In the house that my daughter lives in, which is run by Minda, and I think you could assume given that I know a lot about the world of disability in South Australia, the fact that she’s a Minda client says a lot about what we think of Minda as an agency. I’ll give you a small example. When we are looking for staff for her house the interview process is extensive and includes a Minda representative, it includes a parent representative and includes one of the clients. All those processes and feelings and discussions you try to take them to a level where we think we’re going to get outstanding people working there and we have in my daughter’s house, but that is a long way away from agencies who send people in at short notice to cover an overnight shift because someone has rung in sick and someone who is unknown to the host organisation or to any of the clients living and sleeping in that house or any of their parents will appear at 7 o’clock at night and say ‘hey I’m here to look after you people all night’, none of your listeners would let that happen to their 2 year old baby.

Deb Tribe: Yeah that’s right. Thank you very much for bringing to our attention the very real way, the genuine and unfortunately not unfounded fears that many parents and carers of people with a disability that they love in their lives feel every day. We really appreciate your time this afternoon.

David Holst: Thank you.

Deb Tribe: Thank you. David Holst, parent of an adult daughter with an intellectual disability who’s also the Chair of the Intellectual Disability Association of South Australia.

Maurice Corcoran, Principal Community Visitor, SA Community Visitor Scheme

Deb Tribe: Let’s just look at this issue of protecting people with a disability in our society with Maurice Corcoran.

Maurice Corcoran: I just really wanted to highlight the importance and it’s great that you’re having this discussion. But the South Australian Community Visitor Scheme is a safeguard program – we visit and inspect all the group homes across South Australia. There’s about 600 group homes across South Australia, but we also visit all the acute mental health units such as Oakden aged care facilities, and it was through our support of family that we became aware of a whole range of issues at Oakden facility and through the family that’s been talked about quite a lot, the Spriggs family, but I just wanted to alert people who may be listening, anyone who has got a concern about a son or a daughter or a loved person or someone that they’re worried about in the group home, they can actually make a contact with us as the community visitor scheme and request us to do a visit. We can do a visit at any time of day or night, we can do an announced or unannounced visit to go in and check, see how people are going, talk to as far as possible the residents or people who were in these units and talk to staff and just go in and observe and just check in on how things are going so we are there as a safeguarding program. When we do the visits and inspections reports are provided to myself. Any issue of concern we can refer to an investigation, we can refer to police or we can refer to the sexual assault referral unit, there’s a range of things that we can do if we have real concerns or any evidence or suspicion of abuse happening.

Deb Tribe: I imagine that an unannounced visit would probably be most productive but if people want to make contact.

Maurice Corcoran: Just ring our number or do a Google search, there’s all sorts of information about our scheme and all our community visitors are independent statutory officers and the vast majority of them are volunteers, so they’re passionate and committed about safeguarding the rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Deb Tribe: Thank you very much.

Kelly Vincent, Dignity Party, MLC

Deb Tribe: Kelly Vincent, what would you like to add today?

Kelly Vincent: As David Holst has already said, South Australia has really led the way in terms of some legal changes to allow for people with disabilities to give evidence in a police interview or a court interview when they are facing abuse, neglect or something similar and Dignity Party has been very pleased to lead the way on that through the Disability Justice Plan.

So thanks to that work people now have a legislative right to have what’s called a communication partner to assist them to give evidence in court or police interviews so it could be that they’re not able to speak or they need to communicate using maybe some sign language or a communication board with some pictures that they would point out to try and say what they want to say and so we’re very, very proud to say that is now rolling out across the state gradually, and we hope that that will make a big difference.

I’m willing to bet that at least one of the reasons why people with disabilities are so much more susceptible to abuse is that to date, people have known that we have less avenues to seek justice once that is done but the other point I think is really important to make too is that anecdotally both through my work and my own personal experiences, it seems to me that lots of people with disabilities also actually miss out on some pretty fundamental education around what abusive relationships or neglectful relationships – whether that be a professional relationship or a personal one – actually look like, and so there’s a whole lot of nuances that feed into that.

If you can’t recognise abuse, but even if you can, you may need assistance to escape that situation and the person providing that or who would provide that assistance is the same person doing the abuse, there are all these nuances so it really goes back to that choice and control and as we roll out the NDIS which is fundamentally all about giving people with disabilities more choice and control over services as we move to a nationalised system.

We need to make sure that State Government, if they are to move out of service provision can at least provide some kind of watchdog or safeguard that can actually look at the quality of those services, provide that additional set of eyes. So I think it really comes to those three things, the legal stuff about what happens after the abuse occurs and we’ve certainly done a lot of work within the Dignity Party on that as I said through the Disability Justice Plan but then there’s the fact that educating people with disabilities, about our rights and what abuse looks like and making sure that we have as many eyes on the ground so to speak so that State Governments and Federal Governments are making sure that the services that they are funding are free of abuse.

Deb Tribe: Kelly Vincent, excellent information, thanks very much.

Peter Sandeman, Chief Executive, Anglicare SA

Deb Tribe: I’m pleased to welcome Peter Sandeman. Anglicare announced on the weekend that there’s going to be a new respite home for children living with disability at Montrose House in the Oaklands Park area. We had a lot of trouble getting someone from a caring perspective to join us, so thank you for joining us. What safeguards do operators put in place in order to attempt to ensure that the people placed in their care are actually cared for?

Peter Sandeman: David’s description of the Minda arrangements are very similar to our own. Really you want staff who have got good training, know what they’re doing but fundamentally have the right values. They have the right reason for getting out of bed and going to work, it’s an area where people can become very dedicated and that’s the people you want, you don’t want people in the lives of people with a disability who don’t care, you want people who are going to be caring, are going to be honest and are going to form good relationships.

Deb Tribe: Unfortunately, many caring agencies would have that approach and yet we’re seeing people who are engaged who are then perpetrating significant crimes, so what systems are in place then to ensure that people are properly supervised when they’re providing this care and that suspected abuse and complaints are being appropriately dealt with?

Peter Sandeman: We’re in the fortunate position in our organisation and the non-Government sector generally that if we suspect somebody of grooming or harming people we’re able to deal with it pretty instantly, we’re able to respond and yes you sometimes do take the risk that you’re balancing the industrial rights of the worker against the needs of the kids, and you actually – it’s a very easy call to be frank. It’s really having staff who are aware of the potential and they can detect another staff member behaving in a strange way. You also make sure that your building designs and the way you operate is as transparent as possible. You encourage volunteers to come into the facilities because extra pairs of eyes are always important and of course Maurice Corcoran’s outfit is very important in terms of the Community Visitors Scheme – it means that people – somebody can turn up at any hour to any of our facilities and have a good look.

Deb Tribe: Peter, it’s an issue that I would like to spend another 20 minutes talking to you about because it’s very important. We want to know that the most vulnerable in our society are being properly cared for but we are so far over time. I know it’s an issue that we will pick up again but it’s good to know at least that you are proactively looking at the issue because unfortunately we have a history of significant problems, and they’re only the ones that we know about. The problem is we know that there are many crimes that will go completely unpunished in this area, but we do appreciate you actually coming on and talking about it this afternoon.

Peter Sandeman: That’s all right I’m very happy to talk about this, it’s a very important area and I’m looking forward to Four Corners tonight.

Deb Tribe: Thank you. Peter Sandeman, Chief Executive of Anglicare SA. Thank you also to Kelly Vincent, Maurice Corcoran, David Holst and Linton Besser before them.