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Community Affairs References Committee
Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings

ANDERSON, Ms Naomi, Casework Lawyer, Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc.

BRIGHT, Ms Marion, Private capacity

CARROLL, Mr Trevor, Executive Officer, Disability Justice Advocacy Inc.

GRIFFITHS, Ms Deidre Joan Fyfe, Principal Solicitor and Executive Officer, Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc.

CHAIR: Welcome. Could you confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you?

Mr Carroll : Yes.

Ms Griffiths : Yes.

CHAIR: Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Bright : I am the mother of a daughter who was raped whilst in respite.

CHAIR: Thank you everybody for coming. I would like to invite, whoever wants to, to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Carroll : Disability Justice Advocacy Inc. provides advocacy and referral support to people who have ongoing support needs associated with disability and we are funded to provide 60 per cent individual advocacy, 10 per cent legal advocacy and 30 per cent systemic advocacy. Our written submission to the Senate inquiry and my appearance today are funded under the systemic advocacy component. However, the case study and the statistics that we have provided, and I will give you some more details about those, are drawn from our individual and legal and referral casenotes.

DJA is governed by a board of management comprised of elected persons from its general membership. We have been around since 1990, so we are celebrating our 25th year of operation this year. We are funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services under the Disability Services Act 1986 and we have to comply with the National Disability Advocacy Program. This program provides people with disability access for effective advocacy, particularly in relation to protection and enhancement of human rights. We are guided in our work by the principles and objectives of all the relevant legislation and conventions, including the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the National Disability Strategy, the National Disability Agreement and the National Disability Advocacy Framework. The act that we are funded under is the Disability Services Act 1986, which is a Commonwealth act.

Advocacy agencies like mine have to comply with the principles and objectives of the National Disability Advocacy Program and the relevant standards. We have a team of nine advocates and they are all part-time. Our funding agreement requires us to comply with the National Standards for Disability Services, which we were successfully audited on in December 2014. They do not come into effect until 1 July next year.

I would also like to draw the committee's attention to standard 1.5 of those National Standards for Disability Services, which says that our agency must have preventative measures in place to ensure that individuals are free from discrimination, exploitation, abuse, harm, neglect and violence. We take this seriously and we have a flow chart that we have developed for use with our staff for dealing with complaints from parents, families, carers and individuals with disabilities. This particular standard simply must ensure that we protect the human rights of people with disabilities from discrimination, exploitation, abuse, harm, neglect and violence. However, we cannot ensure that. We can do our very best but there are often systemic issues, which I have drawn your attention to in the written submission, that prevent us from ensuring that that happens.

Were also required to comply with all the relevant laws, including the Commonwealth Privacy Act, which is important for our work. We have a client handbook both in easy English and standard English which we support our clients with so they understand all our policies and procedures. Prior to 1 October 2010, the date of the statistics that I have provided in my written submission, our records were all stored in paper files. From 1 October, we started to digitise it and engage with some new software which enables us to collate all of the personal information we collect about clients and their case files into statistics. It is those statistics that I have been able to provide to the Senate inquiry in the written submission.

I indicated then on 8 April that up until 31 March our records indicated that 16.75 per cent of our clients over that period were victims of violence, abuse or neglect, and that that was within our 28 municipalities that we are funded to provide advocacy services in.

This represents 86 clients out of a total of 513 during that period. Some of those clients signed advocacy agreements with us and received advocacy. Some of them also were the subject of referrals because our waiting list was closed, because the clients themselves were outside of our intake area or because the matter was so urgent that it was referred to us by a family member, a carer or a worker and we were not able to get the consent of the individual before we took action to report the abuse or the neglect.

Historically, during that period we have been subject to three different standards by the federal government. The first one was the Disability Services Standards, which were in force for many years under the Disability Services Act. The second one was the Disability Advocacy Standards. As of December last year, it is the National Standards for Disability Services. All of the standards, all three of those over the last five years, have required us to protect people with disabilities from neglect, violence and abuse to using a human rights approach.

In the submission, I gave you some case studies in relation to clients in residential institutions. I would like to share with you briefly another case study from an aged-care facility that relates particularly to a young person in a nursing home. This client was aged 47 and was in an aged-care facility and had an intellectual disability, no speech and a physical disability. We received the referral from a day service provider, who had the following concerns: 'On two occasions, this client arrived with dry faeces in her pubic area, which day staff observed during personal care routines.' They reported these observations in the daily communication diary between their service and the aged-care facility, but no action was taken to clean and dress the client properly. There were signs of skin deterioration in the area and a distinct lack of personal care.

She was also experiencing significant problems in swallowing and with choking on her food. Her wheelchair did not have a chest harness to keep her safe when she was being moved and the wheelchair needed repairs and was an OH&S hazard for the day service. There were pressure sores that had not been bandaged and her fingernails were long and obviously had not been trimmed for several months.

Our advocate investigated the matter and discovered that this particular young person—47, in an aged facility—had no family support network, did not have the capacity to make informed decisions, did not have a legal guardian and had been taken off the electoral roll by the aged-care facility. The care plan did not stipulate how to shower or what equipment to use during showering and dressing. The client had not received medical attention for her swallowing difficulties. She had not been provided with a half-price, multipurpose taxi program card. She did not have any support to access the community on weekends. She did not have a companion card. She had untreated rashes on her arms and legs. She had long periods of time where she had not been seen by a GP because there was no backup plan when the GP who was assigned to the nursing home was on leave. She had clothing that was communally laundered, but her items were not named. She had a bowel chart that showed long periods of time when there was no bowel movement recorded. She was being left in front of the TV while the elderly residents were being fed their evening meal.

Three of my advocates worked on this case over a period of time. We eventually addressed many of the problems by applying to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and getting a guardianship order in favour of the Office of the Public Advocate. Unfortunately, the client passed away four months after that guardianship order was enforced by VCAT. She died from medical complications associated with the swallowing and the chest infections.

That is an example of a young person in a nursing home with a disability. This raises a lot of issues for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and how we are going to deal with those sorts of issues as we go forward. I point out that our agency has an excellent working relationship with senior command in Victoria Police, the Office of the Public Advocate and the Human Rights Commission in Victoria. We have been advocating since 2010 for the establishment of a Victorian Police disability reference group. I am pleased to say that that was finally introduced last year, and Deidre and I are both members of the inaugural group of that.

We also support the training of police recruits and protective services officers through our volunteer program under the community encounters program. We try to use that program to provide volunteers with disabilities from our membership and our client base to help with the training of cadets and protective service officers. I have been a member of the human rights commission's disability reference group for the last seven years and I was a key informant on the Beyond Doubt research project into people with disabilities as victims of crime. I was also on the reference group that oversaw that research.

In summary, what I would like to say is that this problem has not gone away. It is not going to go away until there are some changes in terms of the recommendations that I made in those groups, because allegations by victims are too often treated as incident reports by the residence—the aged-care facilities, the group homes or the respite centres—and they are often not referred to police. They are handled internally. The police sometimes regard these abuse allegations as internal OH&S issues and so they do not investigate. Sometimes through lack of training police find it is too difficult to interview some of the clients that we work with, particularly those who are non-verbal and cannot read or write. They find it extremely challenging and therefore do not bother to investigate.

Some of the victims are reluctant to report abuse because they are frightened of the consequences, of what will happen to them if they do. There is often an imbalance of power in those residential situations, where the staff are not only responsible for the tenancy arrangements but also responsible for the personal care. When you have that imbalance of power, where on one hand your tenancy could be at risk if you complain about the personal care you get, it often places the clients and their families in an unenviable position. Some victims cannot communicate the abuse because they lack the support to do it. They do not have appropriate augmentative or communication aids. Unfortunately, some victims are discouraged from reporting the abuse by their families. Their families are frightened of the consequences.

I draw your attention to the Beyond doubt report that was produced by the human rights commission here in Victoria, because it makes a number of recommendations in relation to the Victorian police. I will not go through them all, but there are quite a few of them. There are also some in relation to the Office of the Public Advocate, the Department of Justice and Regulation and the Department of Health and Human Services.

CHAIR: Thank you. Ms Griffiths?

Ms Griffiths : I am from the Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service, which is a state-wide community legal centre that is funded under the National Disability Advocacy Program through the Department of Social Services. We have been around for about the same length of time as Disability Justice Advocacy has—about 25 years. Villamanta believes that people who have a disability should be included in the community fully and have the same rights and opportunities as people who do not have a disability, and our mission is to make sure that people with a disability know about their legal rights and human rights and are enabled to have them acted upon.

We have a priority constituency of people who have an intellectual disability and we do a lot of our legal casework for them. We have a telephone advice line for everybody who has any kind of disability and we try to connect people up with the right source of assistance. We do some policy and law reform work and community legal education about disability rights.

I should just mention I am also a member of the board of Disability Advocacy Victoria, which was mentioned earlier. It was said that Disability Advocacy Victoria, which is the peak body for independent disability advocacy organisations in Victoria, had not made a submission to this inquiry. I would like to set the record straight. Disability Advocacy Victoria did make a submission which endorsed the submissions of two of its major members—Communication Rights Australia and Disability Discrimination Legal Service, which made an extensive submission. So Disability Advocacy Victoria has actually made a submission and Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service has made some brief submissions.

There are a number of other points that I could speak to in addition to our main submission if there is time, but I will just mention them because we may well run out of time. They were the same kinds of things that Trevor covered in relation to the abuse of people in community residential units, supported accommodation, respite and day placements. We have a lot of the same issues as Trevor covered, so I will not go over those other than to say he is right—the fear of complaining is very real, especially for families.

Families are often excluded. There are incident reports that families are denied access to on grounds of privacy, for example. Freedom of information applications often need to be made, or people just give up and never get to see the incident reports. Occupational health and safety as well as privacy legislation is often used as an excuse or explanation for why families are not communicated with or given access to information about their family member. Often the workplace takes priority over the fact that this is the home of the people who have a disability. The central issue becomes that it is a good workplace for the employees who work there.

A couple of other points relate to schools—the special schools that we have been involved in and matters of the use of restraints and seclusion against school students in either mainstream schools or special schools. It is completely inappropriate. There is a long list of reasons why that should not happen and there are alternatives that would make it unnecessary to use restraint or seclusion, but the schools are ill resourced or inadequately advised or trained to deal with these matters appropriately.

Another issue in relation to schools is there is no independent complaints body, so it is impossible for anyone to get anywhere if they have an issue of that sort in relation to what is happening to their family member, their child, in school. We would recommend that an independent complaints body is urgently required for schools and special schools issues. Communication device support and training is often denied to students in schools.

Another issue is relinquishment of adult children, which is often encouraged by the authorities as the only way to get an appropriate level of support for a family member, where what should be happening is sufficient support being available in the first place to enable the person to continue to live as part of their family. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has a report that gives much more detail about this.

The Disability Services Commissioner is another point I would like to mention. The power to investigate is hardly ever used. There is no power to direct and people seldom go back a second time. Although we do encourage people initially, they often find that they achieve nothing and waste a lot of time going to the Disability Services Commissioner and do not go back again.

In relation to the importance of independent advocacy, I note there was mention earlier that the disability advocacy organisations do not seem to achieve very much, and this is evidenced by the fact that there is still abuse of people in institutions. I can speak on behalf of the members of Disability Advocacy Victoria Inc. and my knowledge of what Kevin's organisation does, for example, to say that an enormous amount of work is done by these independent disability advocacy organisations and they alone cannot solve these problems.

I would also like to mention something in passing. There was mention of Kevin Stone and VALID and it was said by an earlier speaker that VALID refused to engage in situations involving client-on-client abuse and violence. I would like to set the record straight in relation to that to say that Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service has worked with Kevin Stone and VALID and other advocates from that organisation on just those sorts of matters. So I think that is incorrect information that the committee should be made aware of.

Another issue is people with intellectual disability or ABI in the prison system. There is inappropriate treatment, and support is inadequate. There is a lot that needs to be done in relation to that. There are people in prison in Victoria who should not be in prison because they have such disabilities that they would be more appropriately housed, dealt with, serviced and assisted in other facilities.

One more issue is abuse and neglect and the deaths of people who are in care. For example, we currently have a coroner's inquiry in relation to one of our former clients. Clearly there are issues there that would not have happened to someone living in the community as opposed to living in a mini-institution.

Those are the main issues, but I would just mention the importance of independent advocacy. There are waiting lists and the organisations are severely under-resourced, and that is an issue that needs to be addressed. Somebody said earlier that asking for more is not helping, but we disagree with that. We think the independent advocacy organisations are doing the best job they can at the moment and if they had more resources they would be able to help more people more quickly.

Another issue is the interface of independent disability advocacy with the national disability insurance scheme, which is unclear. There will be problematic issues in relation to that, and hopefully they will be dealt with as time goes on, in the not-too-distant future. I will mention also that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is not a silver bullet for all the issues faced by people with a disability. There seem to be some thoughts among some circles that once the National Disability Insurance Scheme is up and running we will not need any independent disability advocacy, because all the problems will be solved. Well, let me tell you, I think about a quarter of the issues that Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service works on are to do with things the National Disability Insurance Scheme might address and solve eventually, and the other three-quarters will continue to be major problems for people with a disability indefinitely into the future, and there will still be a big need for independent disability advocacy.

I will hand over to Naomi Anderson on the submission Villamanta made, because she has been involved with that. But I will just say that I have more to add to that if there is time.

Ms Anderson : As a legal service we come to these issues after the abuse or the neglect or the violence has already occurred. As I mentioned in the letter to the committee, the letters that were attached in our submission document the barriers to justice, security and confidence that these individuals and their families face once they have been alerted to an abuse, and that is the area I would like to focus on now—once it has already happened and there is an awareness that something has happened.

I am new to Villamanta and have spent a lot of my career working in the corporate sector, where it was very normal to do risk management regularly. We had fire drills. In South America we had earthquake drills. We did pandemic planning. If you all flew in here, you would have been shown where the emergency exits were on the plane—every single time, because you practise so that when something does happen you automatically know what to do. My experience dealing with these matters has been that that is absolutely evidently not happening.

What does risk management do? It contemplates and acknowledges the potential critical event, and that is one very clear issue that we confront here: every single time an event of abuse or violence et cetera is raised, there is the disbelief, the shock, the horror. We cannot operate from a place where we do not expect it to happen. We know it has happened, we know it does happen and we know there is always the potential that it will happen. This building we are in could catch on fire; we know that, so we do fire drills. That does not mean we are saying it is okay for buildings to catch on fire; it just means we know it is a possibility, and we will handle that possibility better if we are prepared—if we have a plan, if we know what we are supposed to do and if we know how to do it. And if we have practised it prior, we will be better equipped when the time comes. You plan a response, you ensure that everybody knows their role, you allow assessment after the fact so that once something has happened you can all go back and look through the document and say: 'Who was supposed to do this? Did that work? Did it not work? How did this play out? What could we have done better?' It requires all the stakeholders to work together.

In this instance, where we are talking about abuse perpetuated by people, not natural disasters or mechanical failures, the presence of a robust plan that is visible, consistent and known actually provides a deterrent. If everybody is working together and everybody knows how the situation will be handled there is actually a deterrent to that kind of behaviour simply because you know what the protective mechanisms are.

I would like to just quickly talk through some of the failures of the system after abuse has been reported, as outlined in our submission. There are issues across the board. There is no single fix. The complacency of many parties along the way is what leaves so many gaps. Those are the gaps individuals and their families are falling into consistently. In no particular order, they are: DHHS not taking ownership of issues, still having this terror of releasing information, even though it has become very clear to everybody that information is needed; individuals needing to receive counselling and treatment after an event has occurred but the family not being able to get evidence of what actually happened in order for that person to seek that treatment; and psychologists not being able to speak to somebody who cannot relay the events because they have a disability that prevents them from doing so. That basic level of information is needed urgently in order to reduce the risk of further harm. We have seen situations where people have had an event and nobody knows about it. When it is made quite clear that something has happened, the incident report or the notes on what happened are not made available to the family for months, and that person becomes worse and worse, because they themselves cannot communicate what has happened. They are acting out, they are showing through their behaviours that something has happened, but they cannot actually be supported, because nobody knows what it is. That is unreasonable.

As Deidre discussed, regarding issues between residents in the same residential setting, there should be no reason for anyone ever trying to seek an intervention order against someone in the same residence. If it is a DHHS property, they should be ensuring that people who are actually a danger to each other are not together. They should be ensuring that it is a safe place for the people who live there, and they should be working out what it is that is causing these events to occur. There should never be instances—and there are many—where we have to provide support to somebody to get an intervention order against somebody they live with, because they have no choice but to live there.

My only other point about DHHS is about whether they have specialist training to deal with these issues. If you think about the response you would see in child protection and the response we see to an event in disability, the focus, the methodology, the understanding and the procedures are entirely different. I am really not sure why that is, because we are still talking about a vulnerable person who has potentially suffered abuse.

Moving to service providers, my colleagues would say they turn a blind eye. I personally would not so much say that, although I do not disagree that it occurs. But if you assume that it does not happen—and this goes back to my opening comments—you will not see it when it does. If you assume that it does happen, you will be alert to it, you will see the early warning signs, you will be able to prevent it from happening and, from our perspective, you will be able to report it early enough that evidence can be gathered, statements can be made and corroboration can occur. If you do not think it happens, you will not notice when it does, and when the vulnerable person is finally able to speak out about it later it may well be too late for anything to be done.

There is the problem of service providers with staff not knowing what to do. They may have a feeling—may not feel confident with the situation—but just do not know what to do. Then there is the problem of applying processes and policies poorly. It is one thing to have a policy about what you would do, but practise it: what would you do if someone said a certain thing to you? Practise it with the people you are working with. What would you do if someone did a certain thing to you? Who would you speak to? What would you say? How would you communicate? How would you get this information across? We only become good at these things by doing them. None of us knows how to report an assault until we have had to do it. None of us knowns how to understand that somebody is trying to report an assault until we have had to do it. Practise it, learn it, make it real.

Another one is service providers with no demonstrable knowledge or understanding of risk management, as I have alluded to. For example, say somebody's bills have not been paid, and the service provider seeks an administration order or guardianship. These little infringements are really an overstep into that person's rights. They begin to eke away at the external support system that they have in place and also their own capacity to manage their own affairs and, by extension, their own safety and to have their own voice about what is happening for them.

Another issue is sacking whistleblowers. Going back to identifying the risk up-front and planning to avoid it, if people have worked together for decades you have to put the elephant in the room right out there and say, 'There have been abuses; this will change.' Without it, you are going to go along with the same assumption that it does not happen. Once again, you will not notice when it does—get everybody in a room and talk about: 'How would you know if there was an abuse? How would you know if somebody had suffered something and they could not tell us? What signs would you see? What would you do?'

Finally, there is the police and justice system. Somebody living in a residential setting does not have a great deal of contact with police in their everyday life. The contact that they do have is probably in a negative sense. They are not necessarily seeing police walking down the street as the rest of us do—police giving people directions, police protecting people. They are seeing police do a job which potentially infringes upon their rights. They are seeing their friends and colleagues threatened by police, because that is the only time they actually see them. Then we expect them to actually open up to police and provide them with information about an assault. We see clients who do not say anything in front of the police because they are afraid. The only thing they know about the police is that they might get arrested. They do not have a day-to-day understanding of the protective role of the police. They have no model to work from when it comes to seeking help. How are they going to pick up the phone and call triple 0 and say something has happened? They are simply not. Until the police become a part of day-to-day life, till they have met some, sat down, had a chat about what would you do, they are not going to. So, if something actually does occur, the chances of them being able to open up and explain it to the police, after all of the other steps they have been through, are very small.

We will need the SOCIT to give evidence and we will need them to give evidence in a particular way. With communication difficulties, intellectual disabilities and a range of disabilities, it is going to be hard enough to do that in the first place, let alone with the barrier you already have of them not really being sure what the role of the police is. Quite often it is after the fact. They are not necessarily connecting the two and they do not see how that plays out.

Then you have got the expedience of the proceedings themselves and the intent being to come to an outcome and to have a judgement. We have all of these failures along the way: we have not collected evidence; we have not alerted people early enough; we have not necessarily interviewed very well; we may not even be able to identify who the perpetrator was. At that point, things move along very quickly and the individual quite often finds themselves without a voice, without an opportunity to have their say, because the system has bypassed them and nothing happens. We should be focused on not only justice—justice is critical—but also recognition and condemnation: recognition that this happened to you, it is real and we have heard you; and condemnation: it is not okay; it is never okay. Even if we cannot catch this person, and we cannot put them in jail, it is still never okay. These are really important things that need to be heard. The system, as it works now, simply does not allow that possibility.

Ms Bright : I sent my submission in yesterday, so I do not know if you have had an opportunity to read it.

CHAIR: We have not.

Ms Bright : I will give you a brief outline. My daughter, then 34 years old, was in weekend respite. When she came home from that respite, over the next few weeks I noticed her behaviour had changed. She was angry. I could not work out why and I kept asking her. I never dreamt of sexual assault. I kept asking her, and I was thinking, 'I'll take you to the doctor; there's something not right.' On 19 August she disclosed at her day program that she had been sexually assaulted. They contacted me. When Lauren came home that evening, I did not want to question her. I had a hundred questions, but I thought, 'I don't want to be putting words in your mouth.' I let her come to me. She looked me directly in the eyes and said, 'That man, that man in the hat at Melbacc, had sex on me. He removed my pyjama pants, he removed my knickers and he put his penis,' and she pointed to her vagina. I said, 'Thank you, Lauren. Thank you so much for telling me. We will have to talk to the police.' I kept trying to reassure her that she was not at fault, which she believed and still believes, several months later.

We then went to the police. As I said in my submission, although I think there were people who tried very hard, the system set her up for failure. Lauren is cognitively impaired. In the first interview with the police I said to them, 'She's not going to talk; she's got to know you.' They said that was fine and that they had all day. Ten minutes after they started the interview they closed it because she was sitting there with her head down answering 'yes' or 'no'. They had a public advocate in the meeting. I felt that was further intimidation for Lauren because she did not know her. She did not know that the public advocate was there for her rights. I feel that system has to change.

Also, when they do their video interviews they are not allowed to ask leading questions, or so I was told. When you are dealing with someone who is cognitively impaired, you sometimes have to be direct. So that needs to be modified. They would say to Lauren, 'Where did the man sleep? She said, 'Staff room.' In my understanding of the video interviews, you have to sit there and regurgitate what happened. They are not, apparently, supposed to ask many questions. I do not know why. Also, information came out in bits. On the evening when she told me she also said that there had been blood on her underwear. I found out that it was not documented. Fortunately for us, a staff member owned up that she had seen it. But the DNA was gone. After Lauren reported blood on her underwear, the staff person said, 'Lauren, it must be your period.' Lauren said, 'I don't have a period'—and she does not. That was ignored. At a minimum, I should have been contacted. It could have been a medical problem. She was let down terribly there.

After she disclosed she said, 'I don't know his name; I don't.' I said, 'That's okay. The police will help us.' Then about a week after the offence, we were watching the television and a man came on the screen. She said, 'That's the man—the man in the hat.' She was distressed. I said, 'Are you sure?' She said, 'Yes.' I have a T-Box, so I paused and took a couple of photos. I emailed them off to the police. I did not think that that was the man, but he was from a certain culture. Anyway, it turned out that he was almost identical to the suspect. So she has been able to identify her suspect. She has provided evidence. Anyway, this person has not been charged because of a lack of evidence. It comes down to her word against his. In the last conversation I had with the police detective, the detective said, 'You know, Marion, I've gotten to know Lauren; I understand her, but a jury wouldn't.' So Lauren, who is supposed to have all of these rights, in my opinion has no rights. She says to me, 'Mum, I don't know why he did that to me.' How do I answer that? She said, 'Will Rodney'—Rodney is my son—'do what the bad man did to me?' She asked about all of her male friends and male family friends. It has really affected her. She is suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. So am I. She is doing a lot better than I am because she was believed. I have never doubted her.

Regarding the system, DHS are culpable. So are Melbacc. They left her there alone overnight with a male agent. When I watched the Yooralla scandal and expose in December, I was devastated. I thought, 'You bastards, DHS! You knew about leaving vulnerable clients alone overnight with male carers, and you've done that to my daughter. How dare you!' I have been trying to get freedom of information. What a joke—what an absolute joke. The police have cooperated to a point. With DHS, I sent letters off; I got a phone call. The man who called was so aggressive. He said, 'Who are you?' I said, 'I'm her mother.' He said, 'How do you know that DHS has done an investigation?'

I said, 'Well, I had had no communication from DHS since this happened, but it is my understanding there is an investigation, or there should have been.' He said: 'Oh, but this is very sensitive information. We have to protect her rights.' Hello? What rights? Then he asked if I had guardianship, and I said, 'No, I'm her mother.' He was being particularly aggressive. Let me finish. I was shaking, but I thought, 'I can't say anything, because I need this information, because I want to get justice for Lauren.' Then he said, 'Oh, where does Lauren live?' I said, 'With me,' and then his attitude changed completely and he told me, 'Oh, we get inquiries for freedom of information all the time, and it's just families wanting money because they find out that a person they've had nothing to do with has a lot of money.' That had no relevance to me. Then, before I hung up, I said to him, 'So should I look at getting guardianship?' He said, 'Oh, no; she lives with you.' I could have thrown the phone through the wall. I was already distressed. Then I received the freedom of information. Out of 136 pages, I got nine pages with nothing—absolute blanks—and all this legal mumbo-jumbo: section 33.1, section 44. That is just sent to intimidate me, so now I have to apply to the Freedom of Information Commissioner. How is that right?

I had another problem after the event. I contacted WestCASA. They have been good, and we have started seeing WestCASA. I asked if they had anyone that specialised in disability. 'No, but I have worked with disability.' So we went along, and it was helpful or appropriate for me, but on the way, in the car, Lauren would talk about the assault, and we would get there and she would say nothing. We were being seen together, so Lauren was relying on me as her voice. It was not right. Anyway, that counsellor said she was leaving, and I had managed to get the name of a developmental psychologist. So I emailed her, and she contacted me straightaway. From the first visit, the difference was incredible. By the second visit, she had Lauren talking about the assault, and she sees her independently from me.

I think that, when an assault is reported, if there were a booklet or a pamphlet with information, it would have been helpful. I even had to source Villamanta on my own or through friends. All the information I got I had to do on my own, while all the time I am under immense stress anyway, as well as trying to care for someone who has been so badly hurt.

I have just found out from VOCAT that I am not acceptable as a secondary victim, and do you know why? Because Lauren is an adult. That is what DHS uses when they do not want to give the information: Lauren is an adult. Yes, chronologically she is an adult. Intellectually, she will never be an adult. She requires 24-hour care. I cannot even leave her in the home for five minutes to go to the shop, because if something happened she could not get help or get out.

As well as ideas for how to prevent this—I know you cannot know what a person is going to do—there should be two carers on the sleepover, but if not it should be females only. I know females abuse, but the ratio is lower. There are 6,000-plus males on the sexual offenders register; there are 100-plus females. They are only the ones that have been caught. Also, I think there should be cameras, because Lauren just could not articulate well enough, and some of those poor Yooralla victims could not speak at all. There are many of them. They are so vulnerable. Also, if they are going to continue using male staff, they have to inform us. I would never have left her there. I would never have. I was a victim as a child. I thought I had protected her, and I had not. And I am bloody angry. It has got to stop. Here I had a beautiful young woman who was so happy; she had not been hurt by the evil of society, and now she has been. And all DHS can do is put up barriers and treat me like I am the enemy. Lauren and I are the victims; our family are the victims. I have been in hospital on two occasions with severe chest pains; I have been investigated; it is just stress—it is just bloody stress, and it has bloody got to stop!

CHAIR: Thank you. We have gone way over time, but your evidence has been very comprehensive and directly to the point of our various terms of reference, so it has been very valuable.

Senator MOORE: When are you funded until? You are funded by DSS. What is the contract?

Mr Carroll : We have just had an announcement that our funding is being extended until 30 June next year, subject to a complete review of independent advocacy.

Senator MOORE: So 12 months?

Mr Carroll : Yes, 12 months, but we have not got the money yet. It probably will not come through until August.

Senator MOORE: When was your last contract?

Mr Carroll : Our last contract was up until today.

Senator MOORE: When did you get the news about the extension?

Mr Carroll : About two weeks ago.

Senator MOORE: Tons of time.

CHAIR: Ms Griffiths?

Ms Griffiths : There were some additional things I was going to say about some of the matters I mentioned; would it be possible for me to email those?

CHAIR: Absolutely. In fact, for the rest of the room: if any of the evidence you hear today inspires or provokes new thoughts, please send them through. We will take supplementary submissions—yes, very definitely.

Ms Griffiths : That is good, because one thing I was going to add on to what Naomi talked about in her submission was that we had another case where there were four victims of rape, and that was not a Yooralla house; it was a DHS house. In the end, the police did investigate the matter and it did get to court, but then it did not last long in court because of the evidentiary problems that pertain to people who have a cognitive impairment.

CHAIR: That is particularly important evidence, so if you would make a supplementary submission that would be extremely helpful. Thank you very much for your evidence today and the time you have taken and for your submissions.