Cases of abuse in the government run homes have started coming to the fore. One among fifty seem to have been abused while in care. A confidential review by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, looking at reported cases between 2004 and 2006 examined incidents involving abuse and lack of care. The main cause was found to be lack of supervisors and use of casual carers.
Advocates nationwide say it is a growing problem among some of society's most vulnerable people. They say that, unlike child abuse, elder abuse and domestic violence, abuse against the disabled has been largely ignored despite an epidemic of violence.
An estimate shows that 4 to 10 times more likely that a disabled person is abused than a normal person but not much statistic is collected about them. Many a times these cases are not reported, mainly as some are unable to do so. There are also times when such incidents are reported the carers refuse to believe them. This makes them easy prey for the predators.
Of the 4300 people in the department's care, 15 were physically harmed in assaults, including two seriously and 13 who received "abrasions, bruises or welts". Five carers were investigated for sexual abuse, including "inappropriate fondling of clients, sexually related language and amorous behavior". And in Orlando, police are investigating the rape of a 22-year-old mentally retarded woman in a group home. The woman, who is about six months pregnant, is so severely retarded that she could not have consented to sex, police say.
The review, conducted internally by the department, found that the main cause of critical incidents was a decision by the department in 2004 to abolish house managers at group homes and instead use an "off-site management model" that involved managers taking responsibility for up to three homes. Each of the department's 299 homes has up to 10 staff and four or five residents. "This change impacted on staff supervision, performance management and client support and ... the knowledge and experience of their staff in working with clients with complex needs including challenging behaviors."Support group for the victims are also inaccessible to people with disability.
We're just beginning to see a raising awareness about the abuse of the disabled," said Dr. Diane Bryan, executive director of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University. "It's a very, very complex issue."
The department's director-general, Brendan O'Reilly, said the Government had begun implementing the review's recommendations and had started to train staff to respond to assaults by people in care. "We treat every incident seriously," Mr. O'Reilly said. "When an allegation is made, staffs are immediately removed from direct client contact while an independent investigation is taken. We have 5000 staff, and the vast majority of them do a tremendous job."
The Minister for Disabilities, Kristina Keneally, said the Government was negotiating with the Public Service Association to try to ensure each group home had a manager.