In Australia, an investigation must be conducted whenever a Reportable Incident occurs, in accordance with National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) mandatory reporting obligations.
The NDIS provides direct and indirect support to people living with disability, who are considered to be ‘vulnerable adults’, to ensure they are protected and properly cared for, in accordance with the law. Part of this support function includes:
providing education on abuse to people living with a disability, and their family and carers,
putting rigorous systems in place to:
check on support services to ensure abuse does not occur,
help support services to discover instances of abuse or situations where abuse continues to occur,
investigating situations where it has been alleged that abuse has already occurred or continues to occur,
taking decisive action against perpetrators of abuse, and
providing additional assistance and support to people living with a disability who have been the victims of abuse, to safeguard them and help them recover from the abuse.
Edge Investigations provides services aligned with safeguarding across the disability services sector, assisting NDIS Service Providers to investigate Disability Reportable Incidents of abuse and neglect of persons living with a disability. The investigative support offered by Edge Investigations also extends to risk assessments and gap analysis on currently policies, practices, procedures and internal controls, and holistic service-based or site-based reviews, to assist NDIS Service Providers to:
identify or discover situations of abuse and neglect,
rectify inadequate processes and procedures for the identification of abuse and neglect,
develop customised management solutions that reflect their organisation’s individual risk profile.
WHEN IS ABUSE OF A VULNERABLE PERSON, OR PERSON LIVING WITH A DISABILITY, CONSIDERED TO HAVE OCCURRED?
The National Disability Service considers abuse of people with a disability to have occurred when that person’s human rights are violated by the actions of another person.
Neglect and abuse may be:
Accidental: done without the intention of causing harm, or without realising their actions constitute abuse, or in ignorance of the impact their words or actions have/had on the person for whom they care.
Deliberate: done with the intention of causing harm or taking advantage, being fully aware of the impact of their words or actions, and fully understanding that their words or actions constitute abuse.
Systemic: where funding provided is insufficient to meet needs, or where staff are incompletely or improperly trained or not adequately supported to do their job.
WHICH CIRCUMSTANCES OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT CONSTITUTE A REPORTABLE INCIDENT REQUIRING INVESTIGATION?
Abuse, in its many forms, constitutes a violation of a person’s basic human rights. The term ‘abuse’ does not simply refer to physical violence or neglect; rather it is legally considered that abuse of vulnerable adults may occur across six common classifications:
Physical assault is deliberately threatening or inflicting physical harm or violence. It may include inflicting unpleasant sensations, pain, or physical injuries through deliberate rough handling, excessive discipline, beating, kicking or shaking, electric shock, or attempted strangulation or suffocation. Physical assault also encompasses unauthorized physical restraint or restrictive practices.
Sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult is any sexual activity with a person who lacks the capacity to give or withhold consent and/or has been coerced, threatened, or forced to engage in sexual behaviour. Sexual abuse, in the context of caring for a person with a disability, encompasses:
Sexual assault – sexual harassment, exploitative behaviour sexual interference, non-consensual sexual contact, indecent assault, or rape.
Sexual misconduct – lower-level sexual harassment, and crossing professional boundaries or grooming (i.e., cultivation of an inappropriate and overly personal or intimate relationship with a vulnerable adult).
Psychological or emotional abuse, generally characterised by behaviours such as verbal abuse, rejection (deliberate failure to acknowledge or interact with a person, or rejection of thoughts, ideas and opinions), gaslighting, humiliation or intimidation, threats of mistreatment, isolation, financial abuse, harassment and bullying. It may also include denial of the vulnerable person’s religious or cultural needs, beliefs or preferences.
Financial abuse involves the intentional misuse or misappropriation of an individual’s money, property, or resources. It may also include coercing a vulnerable adult into providing financial benefits, such as cash gifts or loans, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult with respect to their financial affairs or arrangements, particularly in connection with property, inheritances and wills. Financial abuse may also extend to attempts to restrict or deny a vulnerable adult’s access to or control over their own money and resources, or to deny them access to information about their personal finances.
Financial abuse is most often committed by family, carers or guardians who act as formal (including those with Enduring Power of Attorney or a Lasting Power of Attorney for Finance and Property) or informal financial managers and have access to or responsibility for the vulnerable adult’s finances and property.
Systemic abuse is a form of harm committed against vulnerable adults that is defined as a failure to recognise, provide or attempt to provide adequate services that are appropriate to the person’s gender, age, culture, needs or preferences. It may include things such as insufficient staffing to meet a client’s needs, inadequate staff training or education, failure to implement relevant policies or procedures, and failure to identify and report abuse or neglect.
Neglect is a failure to provide basic physical and emotional necessities, either actively or passively. Examples include deliberate denial of medical care, medication or physical assistance to a person who requires it; failure to provide adequate shelter, food, clothing, protection or supervision; placing a person at undue risk of harm to their physical, mental or emotional health by exposing them to unsafe environments or practices, or by failing to protect them from serious abuse; and, failure to provide the stimulation required to promote the emotional, intellectual and social development of a vulnerable adult.
With respect to provision of care to a vulnerable adult or person living with a disability, supervisory neglect is an intentional or reckless failure to provide adequate supervision, care or support to a vulnerable adult, resulting in significant harm to, or the death of, that person.
LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR INVESTIGATION OF DISABILITY REPORTABLE INCIDENTS
In accordance with the UN Convention on Human Rights, Australia has laws and regulations in place to safeguard people living with disability and ensure they are protected from abuse, both inside the home or facility in which they live and in public.
NDIS-funded providers are responsible for safeguarding people living with disabilities by establishing robust processes for preventing, handling and responding to reportable incidents, and it is a legislative requirement that all reportable incidents be investigated. Furthermore, these incidents and the resultant investigations must be reported to the Office of the State Ombudsman, which is responsible for overseeing the investigations and determining whether appropriate action has been taken as a result of the investigation.
WHY DO INVESTIGATIONS OF DISABILITY REPORTABLE INCIDENTS REQUIRE SPECIALISED PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES?
Conducting Disability Investigations, i.e., investigating Reportable Incidents of abuse and neglect of persons living with a disability, not only requires sensitivity, but also necessitates:
a proper understanding of the concept of human rights violations,
a thorough knowledge of what constitutes ‘abuse’,
a focus on each individual’s needs and the elements that make each individual’s life “good”, and
the ability to effectively recognise the signs that abuse has occurred or continues to occur.
Investigations of Disability Reportable Incidents require specialised processes and procedures, which adhere to relevant legal principles and follow recommended guidelines, to ensure the investigation complies with all applicable legislative and regulatory requirements. Use of specialised processes and procedures also ensures the quality of the investigation and helps to guarantee that the findings are impartial, grounded in fact, and able to withstand the potential scrutiny of a state ombudsman, a tribunal or court proceedings.
Therefore, it is imperative that the selected investigator is a highly-experienced professional who is well-versed in the legal and procedural requirements for conducting specialised investigations, such as disability investigations that may pertain to particularly serious allegations of physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse.
Edge Investigations’ specialised investigative procedures are based on the fundamental legal principles and stringent practices and processes required for investigations of Disability Reportable Incidents, enabling our team of qualified investigators to make fair, unbiased and robust determinations and deliver reliable investigation reports that meet NDIS Service Providers’ legal obligations and are strong enough to withstand the scrutiny of legal and regulatory bodies.
HOW CAN EDGE INVESTIGATIONS ASSIST YOUR ORGANISATION TO CONDUCT EFFECTIVE INVESTIGATIONS OF DISABILITY REPORTABLE INCIDENTS?
Edge Investigations offers Disability Support Providers – small or large – a full suite of investigative services that are aligned to safeguarding across the disability services industry, including comprehensive investigations of Disability Reportable Incidents, supported investigation services that assist Disability Service Providers to conduct their own investigations, and holistic site-based reviews.
Flawed or botched investigations can be extremely damaging to all parties involved, so it is crucial to have an experienced, unbiased investigator handle the investigation. Every investigation undertaken by Edge Investigations’ team of professional, experienced and highly trained investigators is conducted to the highest standards, in full compliance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.
If you require assistance with conducting investigations into Reportable Incidents associated with the provision of care to a person living with a disability, contact Edge Investigations today.