Sex abuse claims a ‘PR problem to be managed’: Royal commission

The Royal Commission inquiry into disability groups has heard evidence that a number of organisations failed to adequately deal with sexual abuse allegations. Photo: John DoneganSome disability organisations view child sexual abuse allegations as “a PR problem to be managed” and lack robust oversight, according to Australia’s peak disability advocacy group.
Nanjing Night Net

The executive director of People With Disability Australia, Matthew Bowden, was responding to evidence before a royal commission that a disability group that failed to address child abuse claims had full accreditation.

In a statement released before Tuesday’s sitting of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Mr Bowden said complaint mechanisms for disability organisations were flawed.

“Current oversight procedures do not work – we have heard that organisations that passed audits with flying colours did not take allegations of abuse against children with disability seriously,” he said.

The inquiry into disability groups has heard evidence that some organisations in NSW and Queensland failed to adequately deal with allegations that staff had sexually abused children in their care.

“Disability services need to listen to children with disability and their families when they raise allegations of abuse, instead of seeing these allegations as a PR problem to be managed,” Mr Bowden said.

The inquiry is hearing evidence from leaders in the disability sector about what safeguards will exist under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which launched this month.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness, SC, told the first of two panel discussions that the NDIS would result in new providers entering the market.

“Greater choice and control over services means that children with disability will encounter new kinds of risks and the ways in which children with disability are protected from sexual abuse in institutions will need to deal with those new risks,” she said.

Chief executive of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, Stephanie Gotlib​, told the hearing families who complained about services were often punished.

“When they start pursing a complaint they are often … brutalised by the system for making a complaint; they are often not believed; the complaints are often diminished,” she said.

Ms Gotlib, who is part of a reference group examining NDIS practice standards, questioned whether the $22 billion scheme would improve the safety of people with disability.

“There seems to be not a strong focus on abuse and neglect in the draft standards,” she said.

“There is not a clear emphasis or focus on safety and abuse issues. Based on that alone, I would have concerns around if we are going to have better safeguards in place for children.”

Deputy secretary with the Department of Social Services Felicity Hand told the inquiry a national system of safeguards, registration, compliance and complaints handling under the NDIS was being negotiated with details yet to be confirmed.

The deputy chief executive of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Stephanie Gunn, said national consistency on safeguards was a goal of the $22 billion scheme, which will support 460,000 Australians, including 160,000 children, when it is fully implemented in 2019.

The hearing before Justice Jennifer Coate​ continues. Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800 

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