Abuse by carers covered up
Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie
16th July 2012
Updated 18th July 2012
MORE than 100 intellectually disabled people in state-funded care are alleged to have suffered sexual abuse and other harm at the hands of their carers, amid accusations that senior public servants are trying to cover up incidents.
The Department of Human Services recorded 112 cases of alleged "staff-to-client" abuse in 2011-12 in government and community managed housing for the intellectually disabled across Melbourne.
Many of the alleged abuse cases are serious, with molestation, withholding food, inappropriate use of sedatives, verbal and physical assault detailed in internal incident reports.
A carer later promoted to management has also been accused by colleagues of feeding cat food in sandwiches to an intellectually impaired resident at a state-run facility in Melbourne's north.
The department has commissioned an external inquiry into how senior public servants responsible for managing disability accommodation in Melbourne's east responded to recent abuse allegations.
Department whistleblowers have accused managers of trying to conceal the extent of recent alleged abuse cases by failing to properly log information, altering staff diary notes and not promptly alerting police to serious incidents. Staff, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claim they have been pressured not to send emails about abuse cases and to delete existing emails.
"Some of the things that have happened lately inside our accommodation service are just shocking, but not everything is being reported or documented as it should be," a department insider said.
The cover-up allegations come after The Age last month revealed a former worker at disability service Yooralla has been charged with dozens of sexual assaults on four disabled residents at a Melbourne home.
Parents of disabled children exposed to the alleged serial sex abuser condemned Yooralla for failing to inform them when the man was charged in March.
Yooralla staff also say they have been directed not to speak to the media about the man's alleged sexual assault of four residents. Yooralla management declined to comment.
Data provided to The Age by the department shows 48 cases of alleged staff-to-client abuse in the Melbourne east region last financial year. The region has the highest number of disabled support beds.
The department says all 48 incidents were reported to police but is unable to elaborate on how long it took for police to be notified in some cases.
In 2011-12, the department held 22 disciplinary investigations of staff in its Melbourne east disability accommodation service. Five staff have resigned or been sacked. Fourteen cases are still under review.
The government and community-managed groups employ several thousand Victorians to care for the intellectually disabled. Their work is often difficult and the rate of staff being physically attacked by those under their care is far higher than cases of alleged staff-to-client abuse.
One of the most serious unresolved Melbourne east cases involves a male carer who has been the subject of several sexual assault and misconduct allegations. The department is believed to have failed to properly investigate initial complaints against the carer - who has only recently been moved away from residents.
The man's colleagues have complained that he repeatedly pulled an intellectually disabled man's pants down in front of others and made contact with his penis.
The man has also been accused of putting money down the front of his own pants and requesting other staff remove it. Police are investigating.
The Age has also learnt that a close relative of a senior departmental disability services accommodation manager was accused of sexually assaulting a disabled resident.
The relative is understood to have been transferred to another area but was not disciplined.
The department was criticised by Ombudsman George Brouwer last year for its handling of alleged abuse of disabled people. In a report to Parliament, Mr Brouwer said a senior public servant fabricated evidence to cover up an assault on an intellectually disabled man. The report triggered an overhaul of the department's response to incidents of alleged abuse.
In response to questions from The Age, a department spokesman said: ''While we will not comment on any current police investigations, the Victorian government does not tolerate behaviour that jeopardises the health and safety of people in its care, or the care of funded agencies."
Victoria's Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, said the department's response to alleged abuse cases had improved noticeably in the past year, but it was concerning that incidents continued to occur. "The numbers are really high … the key thing is to find out why is this happening and what are we doing to stop it happening in the first place," she said.
Executive director of the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability, Kevin Stone, commended the department for improvements in its handling of alleged abuse. But he said it was clear "a blind eye is still being turned'' in some services to evidence of abuse.
Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said the government had to ensure all alleged incidents were investigated "on a basis of full disclosure and not withholding information from scrutiny".