Independent Oversight and Complaints Mechanisms in the Disability Sector

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Royal Commission) published and released their final report on 29 September 2023, with an updated final report being published and released on 2 November 2023. Volume 11 of the Royal Commission’s final report looked into current independent oversight and complaints mechanisms which protect people with disability from abuse and maltreatment and considered:

  • Gaps in practice;
  • Policies and procedures; and
  • What is required to strengthen practice, policies and procedures to ensure the safety of people with disability.

Volume 11 of the Final Report made 18 recommendations including establishing adult safeguarding bodies, establishing all-encompassing independent complaints reporting, referral and support mechanisms, introducing legislation which complies with the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, implementing community visitor schemes as a method of safeguarding, implementing disability death review schemes to assess, monitor, review and make recommendations in relation to reviewable deaths, and establishing a nationally consistent Reportable Conduct Scheme (Scheme).

Reportable Conduct Scheme Recommendations

The Royal Commission found that children with disability are at increased risk of sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect in care, are more like to experience instability, are at higher risk of being exposed to multiple maltreatment incidents and are more likely to experience abuse perpetrated by multiple individuals. The Royal Commission considered the recommendation from the 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which recommended all states and territories establish a nationally consistent Scheme. Despite this recommendation, the Royal Commission found that not all states and territories have established a Scheme and the states and territories which have established and implemented a Scheme are inconsistent with their approach and response to reportable allegations, as well as their definitions of abuse. Further to this, the Royal Commission also found that the Scheme and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (Commission) were inconsistent with one another in their approach and response to allegations, as well as their definitions of abuse, creating confusion for service providers and therefore disability service providers who fall under both.

The Royal Commission made two recommendations in relation to the Scheme:

1. States and territories should establish a Scheme in accordance with the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and existing Schemes should be nationally consistent, include disability service providers, include ‘ill treatment’ as a type of reportable conduct, have a common definition of disability, and collect and publish data on notifications and outcomes of reports.

2. States and territory Schemes and the Commission should jointly develop guiding principles to manage incidents which are both reportable conduct and reportable incidents and develop guidance for organisations to better understand notification, management and investigation requirements for incidents involving children with disability.

What is the Reportable Conduct Scheme?

The Scheme provides independent oversight into how organisations prevent and respond to allegations of child abuse and misconduct perpetrated by employees and volunteers within their organisation, as well as how organisations comply with their legal and ethical obligations when it comes to child safety and safeguarding. The Scheme requires organisations to notify their relevant independent oversight body of reportable allegations, investigate reportable allegations and provide an outcome of the investigation to the independent oversight body within a certain timeframe to ensure that allegations are handled in a timely manner.

The aim of the Scheme is to identify employees and volunteers who pose a risk to children because they have engaged in sexual offences, sexual misconduct, physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse and neglect against children they have the care, supervision and authority over, with an overarching aim to remove and restrict these employees and volunteers from the workforce to better protect children and prevent children being exposed to harm and maltreatment.

How Can Organisations Prepare for the Reportable Conduct Scheme?

Organisations have a number of legal and moral reporting obligations which they are required to comply with and should have policies and procedures in place to support employees and volunteers to adhere to their various obligations and allow them to respond to reportable allegations and mitigate risk. Child safety and safeguarding training is critical in being able to upskill staff to prevent, comply and respond to incidents and allegations of abuse and maltreatment.

Organisations should have clear and accessible complaints handling processes which are easy to understand to ensure that children with disability, their caregivers and employees and volunteers working with children understand the processes and procedures and feel safe and supported when making a complaint or reportable allegation. Complaints handling processes should be transparent o ensure that children and caregivers have a clear understanding of the steps taken when a complaint or allegation is made, and given them confidence that they are being listened to, validated and supported.

Organisations must ensure that when reportable allegations are made, they are appropriately responded to. Complaints systems and investigations into complaints and allegations should be trauma informed and should be conducted by qualified specialist investigators with an understanding of the disability sector. Any investigation should ensure that it includes people with disability in the investigation so that their voice can be heard and that all relevant witnesses are interviewed and all documentary evidence is obtained so that the process is holistic, thorough and balanced.

How Can Safe Space Legal Help?

The team at Safe Space Legal have extensive experience conducting reportable conduct investigations and work with organisations to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations when working with people with disability. Safe Space Legal offer a large range of services including:

  • Developing child safety and safeguarding policies, procedures and complaints handling processes;
  • Delivering child safety and safeguarding training to ensure organisations are aware of their obligations and sector-specific requirements;
  • Conducting trauma-informed specialist child safety investigations for organisations;
  • Providing expert advice on safeguarding compliance and systemic issues;
  • Conducting root cause analyses of critical incidents and crisis management; and
  • Completing policy and implementation audits to ensure compliance with legislative obligations.

Contact [email protected] or call (03) 9124 7321 to organise a complementary discussion in relation to your organisation’s child safety and safeguarding needs.

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