Prevent, Comply, Respond: Public Hearing 20 – Two Case Studies from the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) held Public Hearing 20, from 7 to 14 December 2021, and also on 28 April 2022. The Public Hearing reviewed two different group homes run by Life Without Barriers (LWB), and how LWB responded to maltreatment of people living with disability. The Royal Commission made 34 findings and six recommendations and the Report was released on 28 February 2023 and can be found here.

The Case Studies

Public Hearing 20 examined case studies relating to Sophie, Natalie, Rebecca and Robert as detailed below:

Case Study – Sophie

Sophie resided in the LWB group home in Lismore. Sophie wanted to engage in consensual intimate relationships with men but was not supported by LWB when she asked to receive sex education. LWB required Sophie to comply with a number of ‘relationship rules’ which hindered Sophie’s rights, privacy and autonomy. Sophie was sexually assaulted by a man she met online, and the Royal Commission found that LWB failed to adequately document, respond to or report the assault and did not provide sufficient support or safety to Sophie.

Case Study – Natalie

Natalie resided in the LWB group home in Lismore. Natalie was indecently assaulted during personal care tasks by a male worker. Despite a number of concerns raised by other staff members, the Royal Commission found that LWB did not remove this worker from the home and did not report the allegations to the relevant Ombudsman or the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (Commission). Despite Natalie’s family making requests for Natalie’s personal care to only be completed by a female, LWB continued to allow male staff to complete personal care tasks with Natalie.

Natalie also had a number of bowel issues that required medication and close monitoring. LWB did not appropriately document Natalie’s medication regime, dietary intake or bowel movements, resulting in Natalie being hospitalised and requiring surgery to remove a bowel obstruction. The Royal Commission found that LWB did not conduct any internal reviews into their record keeping following the incident, and did not report the critical incident to the NDIS Commission.

Case Study – Rebecca and Robert

Rebecca and Robert resided in the LWB group home in Melbourne. While residing in the home they experienced repeated incidents of interpersonal violence and conflict by other residents. The Royal Commission found LWB did not appropriately respond to or address the incidents and did not advise Rebecca and Robert’s families of the incidents. It was found that despite clear policies and procedures being in place, LWB were not implementing the policies by assessing the compatibility of residents before placing them together, resulting in further incidents occurring. LWB were also found to:

  • provide a lack of appropriate training and support to staff to address the critical incidents
  • have kept inadequate records of how they were spending residents’ money
  • did not respond to complaints from families about expenditure, home cleanliness or home maintenance; and
  • inadequately communicate with clients and family about operations, processes and procedures regarding the concerns raised.

The Recommendations

The Royal Commission made six recommendations arising out of the recommendations from Public Hearing 20, including that LWB should:

  1. Review its policies and procedures and upskill staff through training so that staff can better respond to critical incidents and client needs.
  2. Review its personal care policies and respond appropriately to clients’ personal care preferences.
  3. Report to the Royal Commission on improvements to their record keeping and incident reporting systems.
  4. Review its policies and procedures to ensure consultation with clients and families occurs before new clients move into the home.
  5. Make all policies available to clients, families and staff.
  6. Consider compensation for Natalie.

Duty of Care

The Royal Commission found proven instances of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation was experienced by LWB residents from staff, other residents and members of the community. The Royal Commission concluded that LWB:

  • Failed in their duty of care to their residents to prevent incidents of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation; and
  • Failed in their duty of care to respond to such incidents to ensure that residents had a safe, secure and stable home.

Essential Elements of Safeguarding: Prevent, Comply, Respond

Organisations have a duty of care to ensure that the children, people living with disability and the aged, do not experience incidents of violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation by staff, other clients or members of the community. Organisations also have a duty of care to respond appropriately to any incidents to minimise further risk and harm. It is essential that organisations implement best practice in Safeguarding, to ensure that organisations can prioritise the safety and wellbeing of their vulnerable clients. The case studies considered by the Royal Commission are examples of what can go wrong when safeguarding measures are not implemented or enacted within an organisation.

Organisations must understand the unique diversity of the children and vulnerable people that they work with, and provide adequate training, support, draft and implement policies and procedures, and ensure staff are equipped to respond to incidents with appropriate levels of knowledge and skills.

When allegations are made, organisations need to ensure that they are responding appropriately, taking the allegation seriously and where necessary, referring the allegation for investigation to a specialist investigator with skills and knowledge working with vulnerable people.

How can Safe Space Legal help?

Safe Space Legal understands the importance of ensuring that organisations working with children and vulnerable people are meeting their safeguarding obligations. We work across a variety of sectors including Disability, Aged Care and children and assist organisations by:

  • Reviewing and drafting policies, procedures, codes of conduct, and complaints processes
  • Providing expert advice on safeguarding and current workplace systems and procedures
  • Providing tailored training on safeguarding obligations and sector specific training
  • Conducting specialist investigations into allegations of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in the disability, aged care and child safety investigations, including under reportable conduct schemes
  • Auditing and completing root cause analyses of critical incidents

Contact [email protected] or call 03 9124 7321 to arrange a free consultation in relation to your organisation’s safeguarding needs.

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