Public hearing 20 - Preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in disability services (2 case studies), Virtual - Day 1
CHAIR: Good morning. I welcome everybody to this public hearing number 20 of the Royal Commission Into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
The main purpose of this seven day hearing is to examine case studies relating to people with disability who were living in two shared disability residential settings, group homes, operated by a large service provider, Life Without Barriers. The homes were located respectively in Lismore in New South Wales, and in Melbourne.
We begin our hearing with an acknowledgement of country. We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land upon which Commissioner McEwin and I are presently sitting. We also acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, upon whose lands Commissioner Galbally is participating. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and we also pay our respects to all First Nations people who are attending the hearing or are following the hearing on the livestream.
In today's hearing, I am joined by Commissioner Alastair McEwin AM in the Royal Commission's Sydney hearing room and, as I have indicated, Commissioner Rhonda Galbally AC, who is participating from Melbourne.
Also in the Sydney hearing room, either now or during the hearing, are Mr Patrick Griffin SC, Ms Belinda Baker and Ben Fogarty of counsel. Some witnesses at this hearing will be participating in person in the Sydney hearing room, others will be appearing by video link.
Let me say something about the Disability Royal Commission in 2021. This is the 20th public hearing of the Royal Commission, it is the 10th hearing that has been held this year.
Throughout 2021, the Royal Commission has examined many different subjects. These include the experiences of people with disability, particularly First Nations people, in the criminal justice system, the roll out of COVID 19 vaccines to people with disability, especially those living in group homes, and ways of making the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CRPD, a reality in Australian law, policies and practices.
Public hearing 3, held in December 2019, two years ago, is of particular relevance to this hearing, as it considered the experiences of people with disability in group homes. We had planned to hold hearings in the six Australian States and the two major Territories during 2020, but our plans were thwarted. The same thing happened in 2021. But, provided that further COVID 19 variants permit, we will endeavour to conduct hearings in all States and Territories by the end of 2022, which is to be the last full year of the Royal Commission's life.
One way or another, with the benefit of modern technology, we have managed to reach people with disability in all Australian States and Territories. Most of the
public hearings this year have been conducted remotely because of the restrictions resulting from COVID 19. This has complicated preparations for hearings and sometimes required arrangements to be altered at short notice.
COVID 19 has also presented particular challenges in ensuring that people with disability and their families receive the support necessary to give evidence safely and without the risk of retraumatisation.
At this stage, we plan to hold our program of public hearings in 2022 in person, commencing with Public Hearing 21, which is scheduled to be conducted in Brisbane from 21 to 25 February 2022. Public Hearing 21 will consider the experiences of people with disability engaging with Disability Employment Services, DES, and working in Australian Disability Enterprises, ADE.
Unhappily, as we all know, the Omicron variant has now arrived in Australia and we shall have to see how the latest mutation of the virus affects our plans for 2022. The way things are going, we shall probably work our way through the entire Greek alphabet by the time we are due to report in September 2023. That reporting date may seem a long way off, but in this Royal Commission's world and timeframe, September 2023 is actually quite close. There is a great deal to do, and not a great deal of time in which to do it.
Let me say something about the Royal Commission's work and progress, as this is the last public hearing for 2021. As those who are following the work of the Royal Commission appreciate, we publish progress reports at roughly six monthly intervals. The fifth progress report, which will cover the period up to 31 December 2021, is to be published in February 2022. That report will contain more detailed information on the Royal Commission's activities.
However, I mention that of the 19 public hearings conducted to date, two have resulted in Commissioners' reports containing findings and recommendations. Those reports, dealing respectively with the Australian government's response to the COVID 19 pandemic and the roll out of the vaccines to people with disability living in group homes, were tabled in Parliament. The Australian government has accepted all but two of the 29 recommendations in the two reports in one way or another.
The Royal Commission has published separate Commissioners' reports, based on the evidence given at seven public hearings, and more Commissioners' reports will be published in the first half of 2022. While the Commissioners' report of a hearing does not generally contain firm recommendations, it does indicate the Royal Commission's thinking on important questions and is likely to provide a guide to the issues that will be addressed in the Royal Commission's Final Report.
For example, the Commissioners' report on Public Hearing 3 identified a number of issues warranting further consideration, as the Commission develops recommendations to reduce the incidence of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability in group homes.
Our program of hearings and other forms of engagement are greatly influenced by the content of submissions and responses that we have received to issues papers that we have published. To date, the Royal Commission has received about 3,350 submissions, and 688 responses to the 13 issues papers that we have published.
Many of the submissions and responses are very detailed and thoroughly researched. Many submissions, of course, contain accounts of personal experiences, lived experiences of people with disability. We have also published overviews of the responses to 12 of the 13 issues papers.
Private sessions are a very important part of the Royal Commission's work. They were made possible by amendments to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Commonwealth) enacted in 2019. Private sessions provide an opportunity for people with disability, their families and supporters, to tell their stories to a Commissioner safely and with appropriate support. Private sessions are confidential but, subject to any necessary consents, we propose to publish in the final report deidentified summaries of the accounts heard in private sessions.
In addition, private sessions are a source of extraordinarily valuable information and ideas that will inform the final report. So far the Commissioners, with the support of our exceptional engagement and counselling staff, have conducted 937 private sessions. By the end of the private sessions program, we expect that number to increase to about 1,500.
The fifth progress report will provide information about other aspects of the Royal Commission's work, including the extensive research program, the many research reports published to date, and our engagement activities across the nation.
The fifth progress report will also address the extent to which the work of the Royal Commission has already begun to influence policies and practices of governments and their agencies, and also public understanding of the human rights of people with disability. I appreciate that numerous factors have contributed to the changes that are taking place and that there are many obstacles to achieving transformational reforms, but a start has been made during the life of this Royal Commission.
Now let me say something about the scope of this hearing to be conducted this week and next week. Mr Griffin will provide much more detailed information. This is the third public hearing to examine the practices of a particular service provider, with a view to making findings should the evidence justify doing so.
Public Hearing 13 was held over five days in May 2021 at Homebush in Sydney. The principal purpose of that hearing was to examine the experiences of people with disability who are NDIS participants and lived in a disability residential setting, managed by a service provider, Sunnyfield Disability Services.
While the evidence addressed specific allegations of abuse or neglect, and those
allegations will be assessed in the Commissioners' report in due course, it was made clear that the case studies were also intended to identify systemic issues concerning the practices and policies of NDIS service providers and of regulators, insofar as they affect the wellbeing and human rights of people with disability.
We explained at Public Hearing 13 that there would be further, what we described as, forensic hearings addressing issues such as the governance of service providers; the recruitment, training and supervision of disability support workers including the casualisation of disability staff; internal complaints handling and investigations of allegations of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation; communications between service providers and regulators and the families and supporters of people with disability, and with people with disability themselves; the role of community visitors and similar oversight mechanisms; and, the role of external bodies such as the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, and the police, where complaints or allegations concern criminal conduct.
Public Hearing 14, conducted primarily in South Adelaide from 7 to 11 June 2021, examined the responses of regulators and service providers to alleged or actual cases of violence against, or abuse, neglect or exploitation of people with disability living in supported residential accommodation in South Australia.
As I have already mentioned, this public hearing will examine case studies involving two facilities operated by Life Without Barriers, one in New South Wales, the other in Victoria. Life Without Barriers is a not for profit entity and exempt from income tax under the Income Tax Assessment Act.
The trajectory of Life Without Barriers' activities is similar to that of some other large service providers. In its early days, Life Without Barriers was a relatively small charitable organisation based in Newcastle. It is still based in Newcastle but since the advent of the NDIS, its activities and revenues have increased very substantially. According to Life Without Barriers' annual report and financial statements for 2020/2021, its revenue for that year amounted to $746 million. The largest source of revenue was the provision of disability services, totalling over $463 million, of which about $418 million was derived from the NDIS.
In both cases that will be the subject of evidence, after the NDIS came into effect, Life Without Barriers provided services to the residents for what are known as supported independent living, or SIL, support. It also provided services to the residents of each home prior to the introduction of the NDIS.
Mr Griffin will shortly outline the evidence to be presented over the next seven hearing days. I shall limit myself to one observation: an important theme of this hearing, which will be apparent from the evidence to be given today by Sophie and her parents, is the profound importance of the very first principle stated in the CRPD; namely, respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one's own choices.
People with disability living in group homes or other segregated settings, are sometimes denied or restricted in the exercise of the most basic of all human rights, the right to determine with whom they wish to live and form a relationship, and how intimate that relationship should be. I am not suggesting by this observation that the judgments required of service providers and regulators, or the policy questions that arise, are straightforward or easy to make or to determine. The issues are both sensitive and difficult. Consequently, some of the evidence that is to be given at this hearing may be distressing for some people following the proceedings. But the matters to be examined at the hearing go to the very heart of the human rights of people with disability, and will shed light on the content and significance of those rights.
I shall now take appearances.
MR GRIFFIN: Chair and Commissioners, Patrick Griffin with Ben Fogarty and Belinda Baker, collectively Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Griffin. I will take appearances from other parties given leave to appear, beginning with the Commonwealth.
MS MORGAN: I appear, Ms Morgan, with my learned friend Ms Robertson for the Commonwealth.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Morgan. I will move to the State of New South Wales.
MS FURNESS: My name is Gail Furness and I appear with Trent Glover for the State of New South Wales and the New South Wales Ombudsman, instructed by the Crown Solicitor's Office.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Furness. The State of Victoria.
MR YOUNG: If it please the Commission, Chris Young appearing for the State of Victoria, instructed by MinterEllison.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Young. Are there other appearances? Ms Craig?
MS CRAIG: May it please the Commission, I appear for the witness Sophie.
CHAIR: Thank you. Life Without Barriers?
MS MITCHELMORE: If the Commission pleases, my name is Anna Mitchelmore and I appear with Ms Ellicott for Life Without Barriers.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Mitchelmore. Is there an appearance for [Paul]?
MR BRENNAN: If the Commission pleases, Manny Brennan appearing for the witness Paul, along with my instructor, Ms Brown.
CHAIR: Is there an appearance for REDinc?
MR O'BRIEN: Good morning, Commissioners. O'Brien, and I appear with Ms Sarang for REDinc.
CHAIR: Thank you. I think that concludes the appearances. Sorry, is there another appearance?
MS HEALEY: Commissioners, my name is Ms Anne Healey. I appear for the witnesses who have been given the pseudonyms Michelle and Greg.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Healey.
MR GRIFFIN: Commissioners, we also acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional custodians of the lands on which we are meeting today. We pay our respects to First Nations Elders, past, present and emerging, as well as all First Nations people following this public hearing.
Before addressing the issues to be explored in this hearing, I must warn people watching or listening to this hearing that I am about to describe allegations of violence, abuse, sexual assault and neglect. The Royal Commission encourages people who may be distressed to seek support. A slide will now appear on the screen with relevant contact numbers, if such assistance is required.
Public Hearing 20. Commissioners, this is the third of a number of public hearings which takes a forensic analysis of case studies involving allegations of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation in group homes. Like the previous two forensic studies, Public Hearing 13 and Public Hearing 14, this hearing focuses on the particular service provider Life Without Barriers, which I will refer to as LWB.
The Chair has outlined that in the last financial year, Life Without Barriers had revenue in excess of $746 million. It provides services in various areas and operates throughout Australia. The services LWB provides to people with disability include accommodation, including SIL, that is Supported Independent Living, access to community and health services, and NDIS plan support coordination.
The present hearing will examine the lived experiences of two groups of people with disability who received services from LWB in supported accommodation. As I will explain shortly, this hearing will consider five topics: allegations of violence, abuse and neglect experienced by residents living in LWB group homes at the hands of staff, other residents and persons external to the homes; secondly, the adequacy of measures that LWB took to prevent such violence, abuse and neglect; thirdly, the adequacy of LWB's response to allegations of violence, abuse and neglect; fourthly, the role played by the National Disability Insurance Commission Quality and
Safeguards Commission, the NDIS QSC which I will refer to as the QSC, in detecting and responding to allegations of possible violence, abuse and neglect of residents; and, finally, the role played by the NDIS funding body, the National Disability Insurance Agency, the NDIA, in allocating funding and planning of supports and services to the residents and how that may have contributed to their vulnerability to violence, abuse and neglect.
Let me move to the two case studies. The present hearing consists of two case studies which are focused upon homes in Northern New South Wales and Victoria. The first will be referred to as the Lismore houses and the second as the Melbourne house. I will begin by briefly outlining the Lismore case study before turning to the Melbourne case study.
Commissioners, in both case studies, you will hear evidence of matters relating to intimate and private experiences of residents within each house. In order to protect the privacy of those residents and to ensure that no resident is detrimentally impacted as a result of giving evidence, or being mentioned in evidence before this Commission, you have made orders for pseudonyms to be given to each of the residents, their family members and other appropriate persons.
The Lismore case study will focus on the experience of two women, Sophie and Natalie, who lived together with two different male residents in supported accommodation in Goonellabah, and then in a home in Lismore, both of which were operated by LWB. Their experiences, whilst different in nature, are necessarily intertwined as a result of them residing in the same accommodation over the same period of time. However, in this opening, I will briefly outline their experiences individually.
First, let me deal with Sophie. She is a 34 year old engaging, articulate woman. Sophie lives with cerebral palsy, a mild to moderate intellectual disability, epilepsy and left side hemiplegia. She is highly articulate, however, she has a slight speech impediment. She can be readily understood if listened to carefully. When Sophie is frustrated or feels misunderstood, she can act out by way of behaviours of concern. She receives positive behaviour support to assist her. Sophie also needs assistance and support in a number of areas of her life, like getting dressed. But in many other areas of her life, Sophie is unbridled and eager to express herself and her particular strengths.
She lived with her family until she was 24 years old and was cared for by her father, Greg, and her mother Michelle. In 2011, Greg was required to undergo surgery which meant he would have a limited ability to continue to provide the care for Sophie that was required.
Around this time, LWB was engaged by the NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care (ADHC) to run a recently established ‘group home’ at a house in Goonellabah. This was a temporary emergency facility, designed to provide supported accommodation for residents until more permanent accommodation could
Sophie's then case manager, who worked for ADHC, arranged for her to be accepted into the home. When Sophie moved into the home, there were two other residents. One, who we will call Naomi, had known Sophie for some time. The other, a male, left shortly after Sophie arrived. Natalie, whose separate experiences I will shortly come to, moved into the home in April 2012. Later that same year a man, who we shall call Tyler, moved in. Both Tyler and Natalie had higher support needs than Sophie and did not share her passions and pastimes.
Sophie, Natalie, Naomi and Tyler lived together in the Goonellabah house until 2016 when all four residents moved to the Lismore house, which had recently been purpose built by ADHC. Sophie remained in the Lismore house until 26 March 2019, when she left after an incident involving two disability support workers in the house. She now lives in a supported residence that is operated by another service provider about three hours away from Lismore. Sophie and her parents will tell you that she is very happy in her new home, although her parents now live some distance from her.
There are three particular aspects of Sophie's experiences in the Lismore houses that will be considered in this case study. Firstly, relationships and intimacy. Commissioners, you will hear evidence that from at least 2013, Sophie expressed a strong desire to date men and to experience intimate or sexual relationships. She talked about these hopes and aspirations with her parents and with LWB staff. She requested support from those around her to help her achieve her goals of dating, of pursuing a relationship and of marriage.
One of the important issues that will be considered in this case study concerns the extent to which LWB facilitated or frustrated Sophie's ambition to form an intimate relationship in a safe environment. The case study will also explore whether the NDIA and the QSC, the Commission, have a role to play in supporting NDIS participants, as Sophie was and is, to have positive relationships, including intimate and sexual relationships.
Commissioners, you will hear evidence that Sophie became engaged in early January 2014. You will also hear evidence that, despite their relationship, Sophie was not permitted to have her fiance stay overnight at the Goonellabah house. In April 2015, Sophie ended her relationship with her fiance. After that ended, like many people, Sophie commenced looking for relationships online.
The attitude of LWB staff to Sophie's goal of finding intimacy was mixed. In an email shortly after an incident when Sophie went to a motel with a man she had met online and engaged in consensual sex with the man, the LWB Disability Program Coordinator wrote to the Team Leader, asking that sex education be provided for Sophie with a specialist. He noted that Sophie was an adult who was entitled to make decisions and that sometimes she would make decisions that other people may "perceive to be wrong for her". He emphasised that the role of staff was to support
Sophie and to ensure that she understood the risks associated with the decisions she was making.
In contrast, on the other hand, other staff members continued to express concern about Sophie's online dating and her attempts to find a boyfriend. In particular, they were unsure about what to do if a male arrived at the house to see Sophie, and expressed concerns about their own safety and the safety of other residents.
Consequently, in January 2017, an interim safety plan was drawn up addressing the issue of male visitors to the home. This plan differed from other safety plans that were in place at the time, addressing Sophie's behaviours of concern. For this reason, we will refer to this plan as the relationship rules. These rules effectively banned Sophie from conducting a romantic or sexual relationship in her home. Significantly, rules 4 and 5 stated that whilst male visitors were allowed into the home, Sophie was not permitted to be alone in her room with a male visitor.
The apparent protective purpose of these rules was contradicted by rule 6, which provided that "if further, intimate action is planned, it must be offsite". Rule 6 was also at odds with the preamble of the rules, which recorded that Sophie would like to meet people at the Lismore house, as "it is her home and she would like to meet people on her own turf".
The relationship rules were amended, but not in a substantive way, over the following months. The reference to male visitors was amended in a gender neutral way to include any visitors. An additional rule was inserted which prohibited Sophie, but not other residents, from having any visitors after 6pm. The rules were seen and approved by the LWB clinician and the LWB Disability Program Coordinator.
These rules remained in place and were enforced by LWB staff during 2017. In September 2017, Sophie advised staff that she was going to meet up with a man whom she had met online. Acting in accordance with the rules, LWB staff decided the man could not come into the house or sleep over. Sophie was given money to go on a date with the man. She was picked up from the house by the man shortly after 9pm. Sadly, after a takeaway dinner, Sophie was sexually assaulted by this man in an isolated park in Lismore, before she was dropped back at the house at 11.30pm. This man was later charged, convicted and imprisoned.
Sophie will tell you that she wanted the man to have a visit at her home, where she felt most comfortable; as I said, on her own turf. However, the rules required her to leave home if she wanted to date or even spend time with a person after 6pm.
There is little value, Commissioners, in speculating about what might have happened on the night if LWB had not required her to leave the house if she wanted to spend time with this man. We will not invite the Commission to make any finding that sexual assault in this case was caused by LWB. However, it remains important to assess whether LWB's response to Sophie's desire to have an intimate relationship
was appropriate to facilitate her goals of intimacy, whether the response frustrated those goals, and whether it caused undue risk to Sophie.
As LWB recognises in their current policies, people with disabilities have rights to enjoy a full range of relationships, to have privacy in their own environment and to express and explore their sexuality across their lifespan. Recognition of these rights of sexual autonomy is meaningless unless service providers actively facilitate and support those rights.
In Public Hearing 17, this Commission considered the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls with disability. The issue in this hearing requires us to consider ableism and forms of discrimination that operate through community attitudes. This is because ableism commonly allows us to think of women and girls with disability as infants and to perceive them as asexual and to assume they do not desire to experience sex and intimate relationships.
Sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights and they are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These encompass the right of every person to make choices about their own bodies, their sexuality and their relationships, without any form of discrimination. This is fundamental to who we are as people, the choices we make, our dignity and our identity.
We do acknowledge that the balance between supporting a person's dignity of risk and acting in accordance with a duty of care to that person and to other residents and to staff, is not easy. However, we should not shy away from this issue because of its complexity. Sophie's position is not unique, and the difficulty for support staff of balancing dignity, autonomy and duty of care remains. By examining this issue, guidance may be provided not only to LWB, but also to other service providers.
Commissioners, in considering these complex issues, you will hear evidence from Elizabeth Dore and Jodi Rogers, who are expert counsellors and educators in the fields of sexuality, intimacy and sex education, particularly in relation to people living with a disability. They will offer practical advice and will discuss broader issues such as education, both for clients and disability workers, and balancing the duty of care with dignity of risk.
Commissioners, you will also hear evidence that after the sexual assault, Sophie's access to the internet was restricted in an effort to stop her meeting and communicating with men. This case study will consider the appropriateness of this response and the adequacy of the support that was provided to Sophie by LWB after the sexual assault.
Let me now turn to the support of Sophie more generally. The Lismore case study will also consider the appropriateness of the care and support that was provided to Sophie more generally over her time in the Lismore houses. As I have mentioned, Sophie has behaviours of concern, in that she can become aggressive, particularly when she is feeling frustrated, misunderstood or ignored.
It is also apparent that her support needs were very different to those of the other three residents. This case study will consider the adequacy of the support that was provided by LWB to Sophie, both in assisting her to become more independent and in responding to her behaviours of concern.
I now turn to Natalie. After hearing the evidence relating to Sophie's experience, we will consider Natalie's experience. Tomorrow you will hear a statement from a person who will be known as Jennifer. Jennifer is Natalie's mother and legal guardian. Unfortunately, Jennifer is very unwell and is unable to give evidence in person. Her statement will be read by Ms Baker, one of the Counsel Assisting.
You will hear that Natalie is a vivacious, social 32 year old, who loves her family and friends. She has cerebral palsy and a moderate intellectual disability. She is mostly nonverbal. She has use of one arm and one hand and is a wheelchair user. She has high support needs. She is not able to make her own meals or shower herself and requires personal assistance each day. She is also incontinent. She needs support when she goes out into the community and also requires assistance with financial management.
Natalie lived with her mother Jennifer, with some home care assistance, until she was 21 years old. She moved into the Goonellabah house in March 2012. Sophie and Naomi were already living in the house and soon after, as I mentioned, Tyler joined them. By 2016, all four residents had moved into the Lismore home.
The case study involving Natalie will consider three aspects of her experience in the Lismore houses. Firstly, allegations of indecent sexual assault. The first of these aspects concerns events that occurred between 2012 and 2014, involving a male disability support worker in the house who will be referred to as LWB Worker 3.
You will hear evidence that when Natalie first moved into the Goonellabah house, Jennifer, along with Natalie, were adamant that Natalie not receive personal care from male disability support workers. Despite this clear communication, male disability support workers were often rostered on together, requiring Natalie to receive personal care from male workers, including W3. Even when female disability support workers were on shift and available, staff members expressed concern about W3's conduct towards Natalie, in particular tickling Natalie when she was naked from the waist down during personal care and expressing disappointment when Natalie's personal care was performed by persons other than himself. Those concerns were not acted upon by the management until February 2015. On 6 February, support workers of the Goonellabah house formerly advised their supervisors of concerns about W3, which included an allegation of indecent assault. Two weeks later a decision was made that W3's acts constituted reportable conduct.
The initial reportable conduct decision form was filled out, as was the relevant LWB form, which assessed the harm consequence as "moderate" and the likelihood of repetition as "possible". The NSW Ombudsman and police were also informed.
Based upon the insufficient information provided to police by LWB, in February 2015 police determined not to lay charges against W3 at that time.
Further evidence was later provided by LWB to police in around July 2015, which caused the investigation to be reopened and led to some charges being laid. However, the police were constrained in what action they could take, in part because of deficiencies in LWB's records. Importantly, W3 was permitted to keep working in the house for another 17 days until 23 February, and was then permitted to keep working with a client in the community until June 2015.
In August 2015, W3 was charged with indecent and sexual assault and tried in the District Court in September 2017. The issue in W3's trial was not whether the acts occurred, but whether W3 acted for a bona fide medical purpose. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges.
LWB conducted internal investigations which led to the dismissal of W3. Findings of neglect were sustained in relation to his immediate two supervisors, based upon their failure to report concerns raised about his conduct in November 2014.
The subsequent inquiry by the NSW Ombudsman suggested that it would have been open to LWB to conclude, on the information then available to Manager 2, W3's conduct did not amount to reportable conduct. LWB stood by its finding of neglect in relation to Manager 2.
Commissioners, it is acknowledged that these events occurred some years ago, and that LWB took action in respect to W3 and the managers. Although the initial findings of LWB will be noted, the focus of this study will not be on the particular actions of either Manager 1 or Manager 2. In particular, we do not criticise LWB for, in effect, taking a more cautious approach to the assessment of risk, in comparison to that taken by the NSW Ombudsman.
Rather, the focus will be on the response of upper levels of LWB management to this incident. In particular, what consideration was given by the board and the board's committees to this incident. Has LWB given any consideration as to whether its own policies, in particular the personal care policy, require reconsideration in light of these events.
This case study will also consider the conduct of LWB to Natalie and her mother and guardian, Jennifer, in the aftermath of this incident. You will hear evidence that despite promises to the contrary, personal care continued to be performed by males upon Natalie after the alleged indecent assault. The case study will consider the appropriateness of this response.
Can I move to the next issue involving Natalie, allegations of financial mismanagement. It is the second issue arising from her experiences and concerns. In 2013, Jennifer managed Natalie's finances. In 2013 an order was made by the Guardianship Tribunal, on application of a disability advocate and supported by
LWB, for Natalie's finances to be managed by The Public Trustee.
During the period 2013 to 2017, Natalie's discretionary spending was effectively managed by LWB. In 2017, on review of Natalie's financial management order, the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal replaced The Public Trustee as her financial manager, with her mother Jennifer and sister Anna acting as joint financial managers.
Commissioners, Jennifer makes a number of complaints about the way in which LWB spent Natalie's money and failed to keep proper account of it. For various reasons, we will not make submissions as to the substance of these complaints. However, it is apparent there were ongoing communication difficulties between Jennifer and LWB over this time in relation to how Natalie would be supported to spend her money.
This case study will consider whether LWB could have done more to facilitate that communication and to reassure Jennifer about the proper spending of Natalie's money. The case study will also consider whether LWB should have done more to assist Natalie in making financial decisions, including, for example, through preparation of a weekly, monthly or indeed yearly budget.
The final issue in relation to Natalie concerns a medical condition involving her bowel. It is to be explored in relation to concerns about Natalie's health. As I have already outlined, Natalie was incontinent and needed support to mobilise. As a result, she was prone to bowel issues, including constipation which, on several occasions, required her hospitalisation. For this reason, LWB staff were required to complete and monitor bowel charts in respect of her.
On 9 March 2020, Natalie was hospitalised with a bowel obstruction. Her bowel was found to be impacted and she was required to undergo a manual disimpaction under a general anaesthetic. Jennifer was later told that Natalie was close to having a ruptured bowel as a result.
Commissioners, I expect you will hear evidence that at the time, LWB documentation of Natalie's bowel movements was poor. Whilst the bowel chart was filled out for a period from 1 to 9 March, there was no bowel chart completed for a number of months prior to this time.
Natalie had been taken to a GP on 5 March prior to hospitalisation. The GP said the staff should increase Movicol and Titrate to effect; that is, to increase Natalie's Movicol dose until it was effective. It is not clear from the documentation whether Natalie was taken to the GP by LWB staff or by a support worker from another agency. It is also not clear from the documentation available whether LWB staff were aware of, or whether they followed, the GP's advice.
Commissioners, there can be a temptation to consider failures to document and keep proper records as a mere paperwork failure. This aspect of Natalie's case study
illustrates that a failure to document can, in a real way, be a substantial health issue. For this reason, a failure to keep proper records can amount to neglect of the resident.
As with other issues in this case study, we will not be submitting that LWB caused the bowel obstruction. However, as with other issues in relation to Sophie and the sexual assault, the bowel obstruction illustrates the very real risk that may be realised where there are deficiencies in documentation.
Further, as with the conduct involving W3, LWB's response to Natalie and Jennifer after the bowel obstruction will be considered. The adequacy of that response, both at the individual and at the institutional level, will also be assessed.
Commissioners, let me now move to the Melbourne house. On Thursday this week we will turn our consideration to the Melbourne house. The Melbourne house case study differs from the Lismore house case study in that whilst the Lismore case study is centred around the stories of two individuals, Sophie and Natalie, the Melbourne house case study is centred around the story of a group of residents who lived together in the house.
It is about Rebecca, Robert, Amanda and Marco, who lived together in the Melbourne house over a period from 2011 to today, other than Rebecca, who moved out in November 2019. It is also about the experience of two other residents, Stevie and Katie. Stevie lived in the Melbourne house from 2011 to December 2013, and Katie moved in replacing Stevie in May 2014 and remains living there.
Commissioners, in the Melbourne case study you will hear evidence about how these residents, each of whom had high support needs, came to live together and the difficulties and challenges that were faced by them and by the LWB staff in that house.
You will receive evidence that a number of residents had behaviours of concern that resulted in an atmosphere of tension and conflict in the house over several years. On occasions, that conflict escalated into aggression, abuse and violence between residents in the house and towards LWB house staff.
You will hear evidence that these behaviours significantly affected the ability of some of the residents, in particular Rebecca, to live safely in their own home. Indeed, you will hear evidence that it was in large part because of Stevie's behaviours of concern that she moved out of the house in December 2013.
The circumstances which Katie, who had some similar behaviours of concern, came to move into the house in May 2014 will be a particular focus of the inquiry. In this respect, you will hear evidence from Anne Congleton of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, known now as the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, about resident selection for the Melbourne house at this time.
As the Commission heard in Public Hearing 6, responding appropriately to
behaviours of concern poses a significant challenge to disability service providers in terms of how to respond appropriately. The evidence in Public Hearing 6 was that such behaviours are generally a form of communication. It is crucial for those supporting a person with disability who displays behaviour of concern to be able to understand what is being communicated.
When people with disability live together in a group setting like the Melbourne house, it is incumbent on the service provider to ensure that any behaviours of concern are responded to in a manner that protects the safety and wellbeing of all the other residents. This requires appropriate resources in the development of behaviour support plans and strategies, ensuring that all support workers are fully trained and equipped to implement those strategies, and ensuring that there is an appropriate monitoring of behaviours and dynamics in the house at both an individual and a group level. Ongoing consideration and consultation with the person with disability and their families is absolutely essential.
Resident to resident conflict and violence is a difficult and sensitive topic, where there is a real danger of blaming or stigmatising people with disability who display these behaviours of concern. This hearing is focused on the role and responsibility of LWB as a service provider, for violence and abuse between residents, and not on the people with disability whose behaviours are discussed in the evidence.
Commissioners, you will also hear evidence about the difficulties experienced in the house in Melbourne. In particular, you will hear there were issues surrounding frequent staff turnover, both of support workers, management and house supervisors, and high use of casual and agency staff; secondly, documentation, monitoring and reporting of the situation in the house up to a more senior level within LWB; thirdly, maintenance and cleanliness of the house; responding in a timely manner to issues raised by community visitors who attended at the house; the difficulties that families had in communicating with LWB; and the failures of LWB management to address the problems raised by the families of the residents.
It is anticipated the evidence will show that these issues, while brought to the attention of LWB management as early as 2013 by the families of the residents, remained ongoing and largely unimproved for the next seven years. Indeed, you will hear evidence that by 2019, it had become apparent to the families of the residents of the Melbourne house that the only way to improve the house was to request the NDIA to remove LWB as the SIL provider and to replace it with another provider. As a result of the efforts of Paul, the father of one of the residents, Robert, and often the representative of the other residents and their families, a new SIL provider took over the house on 1 November 2020.
In view of this evidence, the issues this case study will consider include the following eight matters: one, whether LWB or the department could have better assessed resident compatibility, both when residents were accepted into the home and on an ongoing basis; two, whether LWB should have consulted with residents, their families and other advocates prior to accepting new residents into the house;
three, whether LWB, both at the support worker level and at high levels of management, adequately responded to resident violence in the Melbourne house; four, whether staff were adequately trained and supported by LWB, particularly in dealing with a mix of clients, each with their own high support needs and behaviours of concern; five, whether LWB's communication with families of residents was deficient; six, whether LWB responded appropriately to complaints made by family members and by advocates; seven, whether there were deficiencies in documentation and recordkeeping, and in responding to incidents of resident violence and other reportable incidents; and, finally and more generally, what LWB did or failed to do to support the residents of the Melbourne house, in particular in supporting each of the residents to live together safely in a way that met their needs, both individually and together, and their right to choice and control.
In respect of the Melbourne case study, you will hear evidence that focuses on the story of the house and how the individuals lived in the house together as a group. In examining this evidence, you will hear from two family members of residents. On Thursday you will hear evidence from Paul, the foster father of Robert. In his evidence, Paul will tell about his observations of the house and about his and his wife Tania's almost decade long advocacy to improve the quality of service and safety of their son's home; not just for Robert, but for all the other residents of the Melbourne house.
Paul will also tell you about the wonderful son he and Tania have in Robert. How Robert loves a trip to the pub and a beer, and how he enjoys time in the house's spa bath listening to music and, apparently, sometimes drinking beer. Paul will also tell you about what improvements there have been with the new SIL provider. He will conclude his evidence by proffering some suggestions to the Commission for systemic change and reform, based on his and Tania's and Robert's lived experience of the system of disability service provision in Victoria.
On Thursday before Paul, you will also hear recorded evidence from Catherine, the mother of Rebecca. She will provide a personal insight into the effect of the conflict and resident to resident violence in the house on her daughter. Ultimately, Catherine will tell you how she decided the only option was to find somewhere else for Rebecca to live that was safe. She will talk about how difficult achieving that end was.
Catherine will also echo issues relating to the Melbourne house described by Paul. In particular, she expresses her concern that violence in the Melbourne house had become normalised. She will explain how in June of this year, Rebecca was finally able to move into accommodation by herself, where she has 24 hour support from another service provider, an arrangement which apparently suits Rebecca extremely well.
On Thursday, you will also hear evidence from Dr Colleen Pearce, the Public Advocate for Victoria, and from Leonie Swift, the Community Visitor Program Coordinator in the Office of the Public Advocate. Dr Pearce and Ms Swift will give
evidence in a panel format, along with Sue Rewell and Christine Barbuto, who are both community volunteer visitors who visited the Melbourne house between 2013 and 2020. You will hear evidence of their observations of the house, of how LWB responded or failed to respond to the concerns that were repeatedly raised by them from time to time, and how they had to, on occasion, escalate those complaints to other agencies.
Early next week, you will hear from Claire Robbs, the Chief Executive Officer and Stephen Doley, Director of Policy, Reform and Business Development of Life Without Barriers. They will give evidence in respect to both the Lismore and Melbourne case studies.
Commissioners, let me turn to NDIS issues. The roles of NDIS and NDIA, being the agency which administers the scheme, have a particularly prominent role in this hearing. In 2021, it is simply not possible to discuss the provision of disability services without talking about how those services are currently funded and how they have been funded so far for about the last five years through the NDIS.
Issues that will be considered in this hearing concerning the NDIS, NDIA and the QSC include three matters: firstly, the sufficiency of the information that was initially available for people with disabilities, their families and advocates, concerning the NDIS, NDIA and the QSC; secondly, the adequacy of funding that was provided to various of the residents in each of the Lismore and Melbourne houses, and the effects of inadequate funding upon those residents; and, finally, various complaints that were made on behalf of residents to the NDIA, NDIS and the QSC, the failure of those bodies to effect any real resolution of the complaints and the effects of significant delays in responding to complaints.
For this reason, you will hear from two witnesses connected to the NDIS and the NDIA. First, Samantha Taylor, the Registrar of the NDIS QSC and Acting Commissioner of the QSC and, secondly, Scott McNaughton, General Manager, National Delivery of the NDIS.
Let me turn to Ms Taylor. Samantha Taylor gave written and oral evidence in last year's Public Hearing 5, entitled "Experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic".
In this hearing, Ms Taylor will give evidence about the role NDIS QSC has, if any, in monitoring and ensuring genuine choice and control for NDIS participants, particularly choice and control about where and with whom participants live. She will also be asked questions about the QSC's response to safety issues, in particular relating to resident on resident violence. She will also give evidence about specific complaints and incidents relating to some of the residents of the Lismore and Melbourne houses, and LWB's reportable incident system and ongoing NDIS compliance requirements. Finally, Ms Taylor will give evidence about the NDIS QSC's approach to investigative, compliance and enforcement action in connection with each of the case studies we will be discussing.
The second witness in that part of the inquiry, Scott McNaughton, gave written and oral evidence in May 2021 in Public Hearing 13, entitled "Preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in disability services (a Case Study)".
In this public hearing, I anticipate he will give evidence about six topics: firstly, specific complaints made to the NDIA by family members on behalf of residents of the Melbourne house and its response to those complaints; secondly, what role, if any, the NDIA has to play through plans and funding or other regulatory functions it serves to respond to situations of resident to resident violence or abuse and unsafe supported accommodation; thirdly, the extent of available funding under the NDIS to support participants to develop positive relationships, including both intimate and non intimate relationships; fourthly, the levels of funding of various residents in the case study, in particular comparing the earliest approved NDIS plans as against their more recent approved plans, and the reasons for any variations; fifthly, the process of SIL's quoting or, as it is now called, SIL's submission process and rosters of care; and, finally, how Specialist Disability Accommodation, known as SDA, funding, eligibility and reassessment works, and whether the particular design of the SDA affects those matters.
Importantly, Scott McNaughton will also be invited to give evidence about some new initiatives and projects the NDIA is pursuing and how they will shape the future work and culture of that agency.
Commissioners, if I might summarise. In summary, the two case studies that will be considered in this public hearing concern different experiences of different people living in different homes across two States. However, whilst there is a wide variation in those experiences, many of the underlying issues remain the same. Those underlying issues include questions of choice, control, independence and autonomy, of understanding and respecting dignity of risk, of resident compatibility, of the adequacy of support and the role of the NDIS, NDIA and QSC.
In essence, the two case studies raise the fundamental question of whether LWB and the other agencies could have done more to ensure that each of the residents could live safely, freely and independently in their homes.
The consideration of these issues will draw upon the previous work of the Commission, in particular the Commission's report from Public Hearing 3, entitled "The experience of living in a group home for people with a disability", which was delivered a little over a year ago, and the Commission's report from Public Hearing 6, which, as I have already mentioned, considered behaviour support and responding to behaviours of concern, and the evidence in the further hearing which is currently part heard, Public Hearing 17.
Let me turn to more procedural matters of interest to the legal representatives involved in this hearing. Commissioners, you are committed to ensuring that this hearing is conducted fairly and that Life Without Barriers and the regulatory
agencies should have the opportunity to be heard and to respond to the issues which we examine.
Chair, you will make directions at the conclusion of this hearing as to how you wish Counsel Assisting to prepare any written or oral submissions with respect to proposed findings and the opportunity for the parties with leave to respond to those proposed findings.
The Royal Commission has received extensive documentary records in the course of preparing for this hearing. Some of these records will be discussed during the public hearing. However, the majority of the formal tendering of documents into evidence will be done following the conclusion of the oral presentation of the evidence. This will allow for any redactions that need to be made in order to protect the identity of any person requiring that protection, and to address other concerns raised by the parties. All of this process will occur prior to the public release of documents.
Can I give a legal warning, Commissioners, to all those who might be watching this hearing. The Royal Commissions Act contains a provision that has the clear object of protecting people who give evidence before the Royal Commission. I want to draw particular attention to section 6M of the Act which provides:
Any person who uses, causes or inflicts any violence, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage to any person on account of that person having appeared as a witness before the Royal Commission, or giving evidence before the Royal Commission, or producing documents to the Royal Commission, commits an indictable offence. The maximum penalty for committing such an offence is imprisonment for one year.
If anyone taking part in this Royal Commission in any form has any doubt about the meaning of what I have read out, they should seek advice before doing anything.
In conclusion, thank you, Commissioners. It may be appropriate to adjourn briefly. Immediately after the break, Ms Baker of Counsel will examine the first witness, Sophie.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Griffin. It is now 11.20 Australian Eastern Daylight Time. We will adjourn for 15 minutes and resume at 11.30. Thank you.
ADJOURNED [11.20 AM]
RESUMED [11:33 A.M.]
CHAIR: Sophie, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission.
SOPHIE: Thank you for having me.
CHAIR: It's a pleasure. What we will do first, as I think you know, is I will ask my associate to give you the affirmation. We are very grateful for you coming to the Commission today to give evidence. If at any time you want to take a short break, just let us know and we will do that, okay?
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Sophie. I think you know but I will just repeat that Commissioner Galbally is in Melbourne, Commissioner McEwin is with me in the Sydney hearing room and, of course, you have Ms Belinda Baker next to you. I will ask Ms Baker now to ask you some questions.
EXAMINATION BY MS BAKER
MS BAKER: Sophie, you are using the pseudonym "Sophie" but the Commission knows your full name; is that right?
MS BAKER: You have made a statement to the Royal Commission, dated 9 November 2021?
MS BAKER: Do you have a copy of that statement in the Commission with you today?
MS BAKER: Is everything that's in that statement true?
SOPHIE: Yes, it is.
MS BAKER: Thank you so much for coming to Sydney to speak to us today. The Commissioners have read your statement, so I won't be asking you about everything that is in your statement.
SOPHIE: All right.
MS BAKER: The Commissioners would particularly like to hear about your experiences living in the houses that were run by Life Without Barriers.
MS BAKER: Some of the things that you speak about in your statement and that I will be asking you questions about today
CHAIR: Ms Baker, can I suggest you go a little more slowly
MS BAKER: Yes.
CHAIR: both for Sophie but also for everybody else, because we have to do the translation.
MS BAKER: I'm grateful, thank you, Chair.
Sophie, some of the things you speak about in your statement concern private matters?
SOPHIE: Yes, they do.
MS BAKER: Are you comfortable speaking about those matters to the Commission?
MS BAKER: Is it important for you to speak about those matters?
SOPHIE: It is, very important.
MS BAKER: Why is it important?
SOPHIE: So other people of my caliber can experience in a sexual way and can experience in a much, much safer way.
MS BAKER: Thank you. Before I ask you about those matters, I would like to ask you a couple of questions about yourself.
SOPHIE: Of course. Go ahead.
MS BAKER: Firstly, can you tell the Commissioners about yourself, about how old you are and what
SOPHIE: I'm 34 years old. I was born in the UK. I have one brother, one sister, one twin sister.
MS BAKER: Did that twin sister pass away?
SOPHIE: Yes, she did, unfortunately.
MS BAKER: That was when you were a baby?
MS BAKER: You have told us about a brother and a sister, and your twin who passed away. Are there other siblings that you would like to mention?
SOPHIE: And I've got an adopted brother, an adopted sister and some fosters.
MS BAKER: Thank you. What are some of the activities that you enjoy doing?
SOPHIE: Horse riding, acting, singing.
MS BAKER: I understand that you are currently, or have just finished acting in a play?
MS BAKER: What was the play?
SOPHIE: Romeo and Juliet.
MS BAKER: Which character were you?
MS BAKER: You also live with some disabilities. Can you tell us about those?
SOPHIE: Cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
MS BAKER: And left side hemiplegia?
MS BAKER: In your statement you have told us about some of the experiences you had growing up at school. I understand from your statement that you didn't particularly like school?
SOPHIE: I hated it.
MS BAKER: What in particular did you not enjoy about school?
SOPHIE: The bullies. The other kids, they were bullies, so I had to be tough to survive.
MS BAKER: Yes. Were there other parts of school that you did enjoy?
SOPHIE: The library days.
MS BAKER: What did you enjoy about library?
SOPHIE: We got to choose books to go home and read.
MS BAKER: So you enjoyed taking lots of books home to read?
MS BAKER: I think you said that reading is something you still enjoy now?
SOPHIE: Oh, I love it.
MS BAKER: What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
SOPHIE: Biographies, non biographies, fiction. Next question, please.
MS BAKER: Pretty much every form of book?
MS BAKER: You have told us about your brothers and sisters. Who did you live with while you were growing up?
SOPHIE: My mum and my dad.
MS BAKER: And your brothers and sisters as well?
MS BAKER: So quite a large family?
MS BAKER: I think you say in your statement that after you left school, you started a day program with REDinc?
MS BAKER: That had two programs, a work program and a community program?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that you were in the community program?
MS BAKER: But you say you would have preferred to be in the work program?
MS BAKER: Can you tell us why you would have preferred to be in the work program?
SOPHIE: Because of my mind, it's so sharp.
MS BAKER: Yes. In your statement you also tell us that you moved out of home when you were 23.
MS BAKER: How did you feel about moving out of home?
SOPHIE: Excited, nervous, apprehensive, all of the above.
MS BAKER: All at once?
MS BAKER: The first house that you moved into was a house at Goonellabah?
MS BAKER: That was a house that was run by Life Without Barriers?
MS BAKER: When you first moved in there was another resident there whose name we'll refer to as Naomi?
MS BAKER: Did you get on with Naomi?
SOPHIE: I would say 60/70.
MS BAKER: 60/70? 50/50, 70/30, 60/40?
MS BAKER: What do you mean by that?
SOPHIE: I mean sometimes we would get on, sometimes we would fight like cats and dogs.
MS BAKER: And then make up?
SOPHIE: Yes, pretty much.
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that there was another male resident there when you first moved in, but he moved out?
MS BAKER: In your statement you also say that another two people, who will be referred to as Natalie and Tyler, moved in some time after you arrived?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that Life Without Barriers gave you quite a bit of notice before Natalie moved in?
MS BAKER: But you didn't receive any notice before Tyler moved in?
SOPHIE: No, no.
MS BAKER: Would you liked to have been given some warning before Tyler moved in?
MS BAKER: Can you tell us why you would liked to have been given some warning?
SOPHIE: Because he was so, let's just say, uneducated.
MS BAKER: So his communication level was not as good as yours?
MS BAKER: That's something that you would have liked to prepare yourself for?
MS BAKER: Would you liked to have been asked what you thought about Tyler moving in before he moved in?
MS BAKER: There were a number of support workers at the house?
MS BAKER: They worked in different shifts?
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: Do you remember how many support workers there were when you woke up in the morning?
MS BAKER: For the nighttime shift, how many at night?
SOPHIE: Not sure.
MS BAKER: Not sure? Maybe one or maybe two?
MS BAKER: By the nighttime shift, I mean while you were asleep?
SOPHIE: Oh, one.
MS BAKER: One while you were asleep?
MS BAKER: Then in the evening shift?
MS BAKER: What about during the day? If you weren't at a day activity during the day, how many?
MS BAKER: Always one or were you sometimes alone?
SOPHIE: I was sometimes alone.
CHAIR: Ms Baker, can you clarify which time we are talking about? I'm just asking Ms Baker to clarify.
MS BAKER: Thank you, Chair.
At the moment I am talking about your experiences in the first house, the Goonellabah house.
SOPHIE: I know.
MS BAKER: So when you first I know that you know, it's for the benefit of the Chair and other people who might be listening. This is when you first moved into the Goonellabah home, after Natalie and Tyler had moved in. That's your memory of how many support workers you had working with you.
MS BAKER: I think you have said to us now how many workers there were. What kinds of things did the support workers help you with?
SOPHIE: Not much.
MS BAKER: Not much? What about when you woke up in the morning, what kinds of things did you need assistance with?
SOPHIE: Making my bed, dressing, showering.
MS BAKER: Generally getting ready for the day?
MS BAKER: In your statement, you say that Tyler and Natalie both had much higher needs than you; is that right?
MS BAKER: I think you have mentioned that Tyler had difficulties communicating compared to you?
MS BAKER: Was that also the case with Natalie?
MS BAKER: Also, Tyler was in a wheelchair?
MS BAKER: And he had much more difficulty than you in being able to get himself dressed, ready for the day?
MS BAKER: His physical needs were a lot greater than yours?
MS BAKER: Was that also the case with Natalie?
MS BAKER: Did the support that you received from Life Without Barriers change after Tyler moved in?
SOPHIE: They were very cold.
MS BAKER: So they did change?
MS BAKER: When you say "They were very cold", the support workers became very cold towards you?
MS BAKER: Can you describe anything else about how their support changed?
SOPHIE: Well, if I wanted to if I asked them to pick me up at the store, they wouldn't, they would ask me to catch a taxi.
MS BAKER: Whereas they had previously been more available to help you?
MS BAKER: After Tyler and Natalie moved in, they had less time?
MS BAKER: What about getting ready in the morning, did that change?
MS BAKER: Sorry. Before Tyler moved in, did they have time to help you get ready in the morning?
MS BAKER: Then after Tyler and Natalie moved in, did they have the same or less time?
SOPHIE: Less time.
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that you don't think you should have been living in the same house with Natalie, and Tyler in particular.
MS BAKER: Can you explain why that's the case?
SOPHIE: Higher needs.
MS BAKER: They had higher needs compared to you?
MS BAKER: What about the communication differences?
SOPHIE: I was fine with Natalie but with Tyler, it was like listening to a two year old.
MS BAKER: So it was hard for you to communicate and to hold a conversation that you were interested in?
SOPHIE: Yes, because he repeated everything.
MS BAKER: In your statement you have also said that the level of support you received depended on the personality of the worker?
MS BAKER: In your statement you tell us about a time you had pains in your chest?
MS BAKER: Take your time in answering. Can you tell us a little bit more about that time?
SOPHIE: Of course. Well, it was a weekend, obviously, and I had pains in the chest and I thought this isn't right. And it's night, so I had a shower and then I got dressed in my pajamas and then I had dinner, and I was wincing all the time. One of the support workers said, "We'll take you to the doctors tomorrow", and one of the support workers said, "No, we'll take you to the hospital tonight". To me, that sounds like one of them was really caring about me and one of them was, like, "Oh, we'll just see how it goes".
MS BAKER: So that was one example of a time where one support worker was showing their care and the other support worker was not?
MS BAKER: And there were other occasions where a support worker would show a little bit more care, compared to the other support workers in the house?
MS BAKER: You also say in your statement that your nan passed away in 2014?
MS BAKER: You were very close to your nan?
SOPHIE: Oh, I was so close to my nan. I still miss her, you know.
MS BAKER: Yes. Did the Life Without Barriers workers provide you with any support following the death of your nan?
SOPHIE: No, no.
MS BAKER: How did that make you feel?
SOPHIE: Sad, upset, suicidal thoughts.
MS BAKER: Did you feel that you could speak to the support workers about any of these matters?
SOPHIE: Fifty fifty.
MS BAKER: By fifty-fifty, do you mean you could speak to some but not to all?
MS BAKER: Did you try to speak to some?
SOPHIE: Yes, on numerous occasions.
MS BAKER: So, one of the support workers you were able to speak to?
MS BAKER: But not the others. I would like to ask you some questions now about the move to the next house.
SOPHIE: Of course. Before we do that, may I just go to the bathroom?
MS BAKER: Of course. Might we have a break?
CHAIR: Yes, of course. We'll take an adjournment.
ADJOURNED [11.50 AM]
RESUMED [11.56 AM]
CHAIR: Thank you, Sophie. I will ask Ms Baker to keep asking you some more questions.
MS BAKER: Sophie, just before the break, I was about to ask you about the move to the Lismore house.
MS BAKER: In your statement you say that you moved to this other house in 2016?
MS BAKER: That was also a house that was run by Life Without Barriers?
MS BAKER: Can you tell me about the Lismore house?
SOPHIE: It was bigger, it was in a new area, and it was supposed to be purpose built for wheelchairs.
MS BAKER: When you say "supposed to be", was it built for wheelchairs?
SOPHIE: Not very much.
MS BAKER: Can you tell us anything about the access that was problematic for a
SOPHIE: The hallway was long, but the bedrooms weren't very the bathroom was not very adequate for a wheelchair, if you know what I mean?
MS BAKER: Yes. What about the situation with your bedroom?
SOPHIE: I had the biggest room in the house.
MS BAKER: Did you enjoy that bedroom, compared to your previous bedroom, in terms of size and location?
SOPHIE: Yes and no.
MS BAKER: Can you tell us about that?
SOPHIE: Because I had to share the bathroom with Tyler.
MS BAKER: So you had your own bedroom, which was bigger, but you had to share the bathroom with Tyler?
MS BAKER: And that was something you didn't enjoy?
MS BAKER: In your statement you say you had some conversations with some of the support workers about whether you should move to the new house or to more independent accommodation?
MS BAKER: You tell us that one worker didn't express an opinion but another worker said, "You can't do this, you can't do that, you'll never be able to move out of supported accommodation"?
MS BAKER: How did that conversation make you feel?
SOPHIE: Hurt, drown trodden on, a failure in life.
MS BAKER: Did you want to move to more independent accommodation?
SOPHIE: In time.
MS BAKER: When you say "in time", what was holding you back from wanting to?
SOPHIE: My skills.
MS BAKER: Your skills?
MS BAKER: While you were at the first house, had the staff done anything to assist you in becoming more independent?
SOPHIE: They taught me to travel on public transport, which was great, but they didn't get me into work and stuff.
MS BAKER: What about living skills around the house? When you were in the first house, had you received any training or support in how to
SOPHIE: I knew how to do my own washing and I knew how to start the dishwasher on. Do you want me to elaborate?
MS BAKER: Only if you want to. So you have told us about using the washing machine and learning to stack the dishwasher. Was that at the first house that you learned to do that?
MS BAKER: Did that also continue in the second house?
MS BAKER: You also say in your statement that you wanted to develop your cooking skills?
MS BAKER: Can you tell us some more about that?
SOPHIE: Of course. Well, in the new house they would I would offer to help cook, but they often did it at night and then they would get upset at me for not helping out.
MS BAKER: Did you feel that over that time, they didn't provide you with much support in learning how to cook?
SOPHIE: Yes, yes.
MS BAKER: So you would offer to help cook, they'd do it the night before when
you couldn't help and then later on say, "You haven't been helping with the cooking"?
MS BAKER: Is there anything else about the support they provided in teaching you to become more independent that you would like to tell us about, or does that pretty much cover it?
SOPHIE: They didn't help me dress.
MS BAKER: Yes.
SOPHIE: Naomi had to help me 95 per cent of the time.
MS BAKER: Perhaps I could ask you about that now. Could you tell us about an average day when you were living in the house?
SOPHIE: So I wake up at, say, 7am, 8am if I didn't have (inaudible), get in the shower, or battled to try and have a shower, and then come out, get dressed, get breakfast, and then get ready for the day. Make get prepared to go out for the day.
MS BAKER: I might just stop you there. In relation to those morning activities, I think you have said to us that you needed help with getting dressed and help with showering?
MS BAKER: And that often the staff weren't available to help you with those?
MS BAKER: Because they were busy with Tyler and with Natalie?
MS BAKER: Did you say that sometimes actually one of the other residents, Naomi, would have to help you get dressed?
MS BAKER: Once you were
SOPHIE: And she wasn't supposed to help me.
MS BAKER: That was supposed to be the support workers who helped you doing that?
MS BAKER: What about getting breakfast, was that something you could do yourself?
MS BAKER: That was something you could do yourself?
MS BAKER: Once you had got ready for the day, you were dressed and showered and ready to leave the house, what did you do to occupy yourself during the day?
SOPHIE: I would go downtown or go on the bus to Ballina.
MS BAKER: Did you do those things by yourself or
MS BAKER: with support workers?
SOPHIE: By myself.
MS BAKER: Was that on the days when you weren't at the day program REDinc?
MS BAKER: So some days you would go to REDinc, when you participated in activities with that program provider?
MS BAKER: On other days, you would entertain yourself by going into town or catching a bus somewhere?
MS BAKER: At the end of the day, if you had been on your own, how would you get back to the house?
SOPHIE: Bus or taxi.
MS BAKER: When you came back to the house, if you were on your own, were there other support workers or residents there?
MS BAKER: Tell us about an average evening.
SOPHIE: Well, I would come home. Depending on if I had money left, I would have dinner downtown or have the home cooked meal.
MS BAKER: Did you ever come back to the house earlier than the other residents?
MS BAKER: If you came back to the house earlier than the other residents, what would happen then?
SOPHIE: I would have to wait.
MS BAKER: Why did you have to wait?
SOPHIE: I didn't have a key.
MS BAKER: So the support workers wouldn't give you a key?
SOPHIE: No, no.
MS BAKER: Can you explain to us any conversations you had about that?
SOPHIE: Well, I actually asked numerous times for a key, but they said no.
MS BAKER: Because you didn't have a key, what did that mean? When you came back and the house was locked, what would you have to do?
SOPHIE: I would have to wait until 4.30.
MS BAKER: Then I think you have said that
SOPHIE: That was at the Goonellabah house.
MS BAKER: That was mainly at the Goonellabah house?
MS BAKER: Did this happen at the Lismore house as well?
SOPHIE: No, because I had a key.
MS BAKER: So you were allowed to have a key in the Lismore house?
MS BAKER: In the Lismore house, if you came home early, you were able to get into the house?
MS BAKER: You have said that in the evenings, if you weren't out at dinner, you would join in dinner with the other residents?
SOPHIE: Yes, yes.
MS BAKER: Did you need any support during that dinner?
SOPHIE: No oh, just with cutting up my meal.
MS BAKER: Cutting up your meal?
SOPHIE: Yes, but that's it.
MS BAKER: What time would you usually get to bed?
SOPHIE: About 8, 8.30; 9, if there was something on TV.
MS BAKER: You have already told us a lot about the support you received in the Lismore house.
MS BAKER: In your statement you also tell us about an occasion when you had some epileptic fits during the day.
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: Can you remember that occasion?
SOPHIE: Not really.
MS BAKER: Okay. You say in your statement that there was an occasion where you had some epileptic fits during the day and then later in the evening, the residents went out with the support workers to karaoke.
MS BAKER: Do you remember that part?
MS BAKER: Can you tell us about that?
SOPHIE: Well, I had several epileptic fits from overheating.
MS BAKER: Yes.
SOPHIE: And then and using my phone. And then they went to karaoke. My dad --- thankfully my phone was nearby, so I had to call mum and dad and they took me to hospital.
MS BAKER: Can I ask you a couple of questions about that. I think you say in your statement you have had some epileptic fits during the day?
MS BAKER: But do I understand you that right now, you don't have a clear memory of those fits during the day?
MS BAKER: But you do remember the other residents going out to dinner?
MS BAKER: And to the karaoke?
MS BAKER: That was something that you didn't want to do?
MS BAKER: When the support workers
SOPHIE: I'm so sorry.
MS BAKER: That's fine, take your time. Are you feeling hot? Would you like to take your jacket off?
CHAIR: We can move the fan closer, I think.
MS BAKER: That might be helpful. Does that feel a little better?
MS BAKER: So you were telling us about the support workers taking the other residents out to karaoke. That wasn't something you were interested in?
MS BAKER: When they went out to karaoke, do you remember whether they knew? Had you told them about the epileptic fits that you'd had during the day?
MS BAKER: Did they give you any information about what you should do if you continued
SOPHIE: They just said to phone 000.
MS BAKER: Just phone 000?
MS BAKER: Then when you had further epileptic fits over the evening, you called your mum and dad?
MS BAKER: And they took you to hospital?
MS BAKER: Apart from that occasion, are there any other occasions you would like to speak about, or does that cover it?
SOPHIE: No, that covers most of it.
MS BAKER: Was there anything else that staff did that would frustrate or annoy you?
SOPHIE: Probably just babied Tyler and Natalie. They did not talk to them as an adult. That just gets my goat.
MS BAKER: What about the way they spoke to you?
SOPHIE: And they babied me as well. That fucking excuse my language. That gets my goat, that really gets my goat.
MS BAKER: You have also spoken in your statement about occasions when the support workers walked off in the middle of a conversation.
MS BAKER: Can you tell us about that?
SOPHIE: Well, we were having a lovely conversation about genealogy.
MS BAKER: Genealogy?
SOPHIE: Yes, and then they just walked off.
MS BAKER: So you would be in the middle of a conversation, and in the middle of the conversation, the support worker would walk off without telling you?
MS BAKER: Would you like to have another break yet, Sophie, or are you doing okay?
MS BAKER: Would you like to have another break yet or are you doing okay?
SOPHIE: I'm okay. I'm just trying to process.
MS BAKER: Yes, there's a lot of information to process. Just tell me at any time if you want to have another break, okay? You also talk about how sometimes the staff walked into your room without knocking?
MS BAKER: Can you tell us about that?
SOPHIE: That was a big one for me.
MS BAKER: Why was that something that you found frustrating?
SOPHIE: It's just that knocking is a sign of respect and a sign of courtesy. A sign of courtesy, respect and maturity, and that's all I can say at the moment.
MS BAKER: So by just walking into your room without knocking, you felt they weren't showing you respect or courtesy or treating you as a mature person?
MS BAKER: Did you feel that you could raise your concerns about these matters with the staff?
MS BAKER: What happened when you tried to raise these questions with the staff?
SOPHIE: I got shut down.
MS BAKER: So they wouldn't listen?
SOPHIE: No, no.
MS BAKER: In your statement you also say there was a Life Without Barriers clinician who came to see you?
SOPHIE: Yes, [Clinician and Practice Support Adviser North East NSW]. My right hand man.
MS BAKER: You say he developed a plan that support workers were meant to follow when you were upset or angry?
MS BAKER: Or frustrated?
MS BAKER: Were you involved in the creation of that plan?
SOPHIE: Fifty fifty.
MS BAKER: Can you tell us what you mean by fifty-fifty?
SOPHIE: One part of me was, like, off in fairy world, one part of me was off in the real world.
MS BAKER: Did he ask you questions about the preparation of that plan?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement there have been occasions when you have behaved in a way that you later regretted and, in particular, you mention that you lost your first job because of an incident where you got angry with another worker and hit the other worker?
MS BAKER: This is at some employment that you were doing at the time?
MS BAKER: Why do you think you were feeling so frustrated at that time?
SOPHIE: I did not only tell her once, nor twice, nor three times, nor four times, nor five times, nor six times, nor seven times, nor eight times, nor nine times, but 10 times to put her headphones on or turn the music down.
MS BAKER: Did you speak to the supervisors about that, too?
SOPHIE: I did.
MS BAKER: What happened when you raised it with the supervisors?
SOPHIE: They did nothing.
MS BAKER: Was that a time where you felt that you hadn't been listened to or heard?
MS BAKER: Was that a part of what made you feel frustrated and angry?
MS BAKER: There were occasions, I think you've said, at the house in Lismore where support workers also didn't listen to you?
SOPHIE: Well, the thing about that is they suspended me for so many months, then they fired me.
MS BAKER: That's your employer?
SOPHIE: Yes. Now, if you are going to fire me, why don't you do it there and then? Don't leave me hanging for so many months and then decide to fire me. It's better off just to fire me right there and then. Let me know, because I'm a smart kid, I can find other employment somewhere else, where I'm valued and loved and I'm wanted. I don't need some egg head, excuse my language, to tell me what to do.
MS BAKER: Sophie, just returning now also to the Life Without Barriers houses, there were times, I think you've told us about, when you didn't feel that you had been listened to or you didn't feel you had been heard?
MS BAKER: And that also made you frustrated?
SOPHIE: Oh, that made me feel hurt.
MS BAKER: Do you think that the support staff could have better supported you when you were feeling upset or angry?
SOPHIE: I can give you an example.
MS BAKER: Yes.
SOPHIE: Can I grab this?
MS BAKER: Yes, of course.
SOPHIE: Because I'm losing my train of thought. Where are we?
MS BAKER: Commissioner, it might be a convenient time to take the lunch break. There are some very short questions I wanted to ask on this point before we move to the next overall topic. It might be appropriate for Sophie to refresh her memory with her statement.
CHAIR: Sophie, are you okay if we stop now for lunch and then we'll come back and you can have a look in the meantime at your statement? We'll take about an hour for lunch. Is that okay?
SOPHIE: Yes, that's fine.
CHAIR: Okay, thank you.
SOPHIE: I really need to refresh my memory.
SOPHIE: My memory's a bit fuzzy.
CHAIR: That's all right, that's fine.
We will now adjourn. It is 20 past 12 Australian Eastern Daylight Time. We will resume at 1.15, is that convenient?
MS BAKER: Yes, that would be convenient, thank you.
CHAIR: We will resume at 1.15.
ADJOURNED [12.20 PM]
CHAIR: We will now resume the hearing. We will make sure that Commissioner Galbally is ready.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes, thank you.
CHAIR: We will just wait for Sophie to take her jacket off. Sophie, are you okay and ready to go?
CHAIR: Sophie, I will now ask Ms Baker to ask you some more questions.
SOPHIE: Thank you.
MS BAKER: Sophie, just before the break we were speaking about some of the support that your support workers gave you and you said that you just wanted to check your statement to confirm that there was nothing else that you wanted to say about that?
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: Did you have a chance over the break to have a look through that?
SOPHIE: I did.
MS BAKER: And is there anything else that you want to say?
MS BAKER: Okay. So the next thing that I want to speak to you about is some of your relationships.
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: I just want to confirm
SOPHIE: Go ahead.
MS BAKER: that you are comfortable. If you are uncomfortable at any time, just let me know.
SOPHIE: I will. Don't worry, I will.
MS BAKER: In your statement you say that you met your first boyfriend when you were 26 years old and he later became your fiance?
SOPHIE: Yes, he did.
MS BAKER: So you'd met him when you were children and then you met him again at REDinc; is that right?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that you sometimes stayed over at his house?
MS BAKER: Did he ever stay over at your house?
MS BAKER: Why was that?
SOPHIE: I have no idea.
MS BAKER: Did you ask the support workers if he could stay over?
SOPHIE: Multiple times.
MS BAKER: What did they say?
SOPHIE: They thought he was a hindrance to
MS BAKER: That's okay, just take your time, Sophie
SOPHIE: Natalie, Naomi and Tyler.
MS BAKER: So they said he'd be a hindrance to Natalie, Naomi and Tyler?
MS BAKER: Did they give you information about why he would be a hindrance?
MS BAKER: How did you feel about not being allowed to have him stay the night?
SOPHIE: I felt hurt inside, and I felt why? Because he was my first love, my first boyfriend, in a way.
MS BAKER: Did you feel that the support workers supported you with your relationship with him?
MS BAKER: Can you explain why you felt unsupported?
SOPHIE: Well, they didn't even I felt that they didn't want me to have a boyfriend. I felt that they didn't even weren't interested in my needs and they just flipping kicked me out of the house because I spoke my mind. I was too clever and I was too smart for my own good.
MS BAKER: I'd like to show you, particularly on the issue of the support that the support workers provided for your relationship with your fiance
MS BAKER: I'd like to show you a document. It's a document that's dated 3 September 2014. I don't want this document to be live streamed. I will explain what's on it. Commissioners, you will find the document in hearing bundle G, tab 30, and it can go up on the Zoom screen, but not the live stream. So I will just show you a copy of that. Is that a complaint that you wrote?
SOPHIE: Yes, it is.
MS BAKER: In that complaint you say "There's not enough staff for training me as a client for what I need", especially for visiting your boyfriend?
SOPHIE: Yes. I remember doing that with Support Worker 1 and Support Worker 2.
MS BAKER: Over the page, you say the names of a whole range of people you have spoken to from Life Without Barriers about this question?
MS BAKER: Had you received any response
SOPHIE: No! Sorry if I'm raising my voice. No, I didn't have.
CHAIR: That's quite all right, Sophie, that's fine.
MS BAKER: It's important we understand how you feel about the situation.
SOPHIE: Oh, I'm furious! I'm dead furious!
MS BAKER: You then are asked in the complaint form for your ideas about how to make things better, and your response is:
Have more staff on weekends Friday to Sunday.
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Can you explain how that would have assisted? Why did you want to have more staff on the weekends?
SOPHIE: So, Naomi and I wanted to do some shopping, get together to do some girly time, get to know each other a bit better.
MS BAKER: There wasn't enough staff to help with doing that?
SOPHIE: No, no.
MS BAKER: In relation to your relationship with your boyfriend, was there also not enough staff to help you get to his house?
SOPHIE: No, because he lived in Ballina.
MS BAKER: And
SOPHIE: And if you've ever been to Lismore, it's a three hour trip if you can't drive.
MS BAKER: So it was very difficult for you to be able to go and see him?
MS BAKER: And he wasn't allowed to stay over at your house?
MS BAKER: After you sent this complaint in, did you ever receive a response to it?
MS BAKER: How did it make you feel, that you never got a response to it?
SOPHIE: I felt hurt. I felt hurt. Excuse me, Commissioner.
MS BAKER: The next thing I want to ask you, Sophie, concerns a period in time after you broke up with your ex fiance.
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: After that breakup, you started to use some internet dating websites?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that it was fun but your main purpose was to find a boyfriend?
SOPHIE: Yes, that my parents would approve of.
MS BAKER: A boyfriend that your parents would approve of?
MS BAKER: What kind of boyfriend were you looking for that your parents would approve of?
SOPHIE: Either Muslim or a Catholic.
MS BAKER: Muslim or Catholic?
MS BAKER: In your statement you speak about some of the personality characteristics. You say kind, thoughtful. Any other kinds of characteristics like that?
SOPHIE: Very well educated.
MS BAKER: Yes. I think you say in your statement family oriented?
MS BAKER: Was finding a boyfriend important to you?
MS BAKER: When it was important to you, why was it important to you?
SOPHIE: Because that's what I grew up with.
MS BAKER: That's what you grew up with?
MS BAKER: Did you speak to the support workers about wanting to find a new
boyfriend or have a relationship?
SOPHIE: Fifty fifty.
MS BAKER: When you raised it with them, what did they say?
SOPHIE: They dumbed me down.
MS BAKER: In what way?
SOPHIE: "Oh, you'll never be able to move out of home. You'll never be able to live independently. You'll never be able to get a job".
MS BAKER: What about finding a boyfriend, were they interested in helping you meet people?
MS BAKER: Not interested in that?
SOPHIE: Not interested.
MS BAKER: I will ask you a little bit more about this but before I do, I would like to ask you some questions about the sex education that you received.
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Again, if you are uncomfortable, let me know.
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Did you receive any sex education?
SOPHIE: Very minimal.
MS BAKER: Minimal? What kinds of sex education did you get at school?
SOPHIE: Like, how to make a baby, that the sperm goes into the egg, but that's about it.
MS BAKER: When you were with your fiance, did you speak to the support workers about any matters concerning sex education?
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: Did Life Without Barriers, as far as you remember, provide any sex education?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement you spoke to the Life Without Barriers' clinician?
MS BAKER: He was a male?
MS BAKER: Did he speak to you about sex education or cyber safety?
SOPHIE: No. Cyber safety.
MS BAKER: Cyber safety but not sex education?
MS BAKER: Do you remember anything about that cyber safety education?
SOPHIE: Don't give out your address or proper name.
MS BAKER: Anything else you remember from that or was that the main message?
SOPHIE: That was the main message.
MS BAKER: What about REDinc, the day support you went to, did they give you any sex education?
MS BAKER: Not that you can remember?
SOPHIE: No. You just said Redding, not REDinc.
MS BAKER: Thank you for letting me know. REDinc is what I am referring to there. Do you think you received enough support about sex?
SOPHIE: Hardly ever.
MS BAKER: Hardly ever?
SOPHIE: Not even at primary school, I never got sex education.
MS BAKER: Then when you were in the Goonellabah and the Lismore houses, no
sex education there, as far as you can remember?
SOPHIE: They did do it at the Lismore house with books.
MS BAKER: With books?
SOPHIE: But the pictures were so unlike real people, it was very hard to try to understand.
MS BAKER: So the sex education you received in the Lismore house was with books?
MS BAKER: You say, not like real people. Like, childish books? Cartoons?
SOPHIE: No, the illustrations.
MS BAKER: The illustrations?
SOPHIE: Yes. They were so, like, how do I describe it? Like, the wheelchair was not like a wheelchair. The female was not like a real female. The batwoman woman was not like a real batwoman. The fat person was, like, over proportioned.
MS BAKER: So none of it was realistic?
MS BAKER: Was it mainly pictures or were there also words?
SOPHIE: There were words.
MS BAKER: In terms of the education you received from those books, did it cover relationships?
MS BAKER: Was it more along the lines of what you had got at school?
SOPHIE: It was more along the lines of what I had at school. It didn't really tell me on what intercourse was.
MS BAKER: Nothing about how to have a safe relationship?
SOPHIE: It told me about safe relationships.
MS BAKER: Yes?
SOPHIE: But very basic.
MS BAKER: Very basic details?
MS BAKER: I would like to ask you some questions about how you would liked to have received well, firstly, would you liked to have received more education
MS BAKER: in the area of sex?
SOPHIE: Yes, defo.
MS BAKER: Are you able to tell us how you would like to have received that kind of sex education?
SOPHIE: Through DVDs, through
MS BAKER: How about sorry.
SOPHIE: More face to face.
MS BAKER: So one on one training?
MS BAKER: Would you have been interested in seeing a specialist counsellor for one on one training, like a specialist sex counsellor?
MS BAKER: Maybe? Would you have been interested in attending group training with other young adults?
MS BAKER: Generally speaking, would you liked to have received more information, more education, about how to have a healthy relationship?
MS BAKER: The clinician and the team leader of your house, they were both males?
MS BAKER: Would you have preferred to receive sex education from females?
SOPHIE: Well, hell yeah.
MS BAKER: The GP you went to see, was that a female or a man?
SOPHIE: That was a male and a female.
MS BAKER: Okay. So sometimes male and sometimes female?
MS BAKER: I would like to now ask you some questions about an experience you had that you speak about in your statement, after you had broken up with your fiancé.
SOPHIE: Go ahead.
MS BAKER: So this is in 2016. You say you met a man online and you got to know each other and you really liked him?
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: You also say in your statement that you told the man you wouldn't be allowed to have sex at your home and you say the man said, "That's okay, I'll pick you up and we can go to a motel"; is that right?
MS BAKER: I do need you for the transcript to say "yes".
SOPHIE: Oh, I am so sorry. Yes.
MS BAKER: You say you told the man that you wouldn't be able to have sexual intercourse at your home. Why weren't you allowed to have sex at the home? Was that something you had been told?
SOPHIE: Because it was a disabled house.
MS BAKER: Was that something the support workers had told you, that you couldn't?
MS BAKER: Would you have preferred to have the man come to your home rather than go to the motel?
MS BAKER: Why would you have preferred to have him come to the home?
SOPHIE: So he could meet my support workers first.
MS BAKER: Yes. In terms of staying at the home, why would you have preferred to stay at the home?
SOPHIE: Because it's my home turf. It was my home turf at the time.
MS BAKER: Yes. So you would have preferred to stay at your house with the man rather than going to the motel, for those reasons?
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: When you went to the motel, did you tell the Life Without Barriers staff that you were going to
SOPHIE: No, I had to lie.
MS BAKER: Why did you have to lie about it?
SOPHIE: Because they didn't want me to have relationships.
SOPHIE: When you went to the motel, you tell us in your statement that you did have sexual intercourse with the man?
SOPHIE: Yeah, and it was heaven.
MS BAKER: So that was consensual intercourse?
MS BAKER: And that was a good experience for you?
SOPHIE: That was heaven.
MS BAKER: After the experience at the motel, what happened then?
SOPHIE: Well, are you prepared for this?
MS BAKER: Perhaps just in general detail. I understand from your statement that your father came?
SOPHIE: My father came, didn't he. I'll never forgive him for this, never.
MS BAKER: So was that something that embarrassed you?
SOPHIE: Oh, yes.
MS BAKER: Then after your father came and you were embarrassed, he then took you back to your house?
SOPHIE: No. For a drink.
MS BAKER: He took you out for a drink first and then took you back to the house?
MS BAKER: After you got back to the house, the following day you say you got taken to a sexual health clinic?
MS BAKER: What can you remember about being taken to the sexual health clinic?
SOPHIE: Everything was fine.
MS BAKER: They performed an examination to check you were okay?
MS BAKER: Did they have any further conversations with you about sex education and relationships?
MS BAKER: In your statement, you tell us that at some point after you went to the motel with that man, the Life Without Barriers team leader drew up some rules about when visitors
SOPHIE: Very stupid.
MS BAKER: Very stupid? Could I just show them to you.
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Commissioners, I would like to put up on the screen, and this can go on the livestream, the first version of a document
SOPHIE: Do we have to do this?
MS BAKER: We don't have to. If you are not comfortable, you don't have to answer any questions at all. So tell me if you are not comfortable, okay?
MS BAKER: So
SOPHIE: I'm sorry, I'm just being dramatic here.
MS BAKER: Commissioners, the document is an interim safety plan, dated 10 January 2017, and the rules can be found at hearing bundle C, tab 366.
Again, let me know if you are uncomfortable speaking about this at any time, okay, Sophie?
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Looking at that document, is it a document you remember?
SOPHIE: Yes, I remember quite clearly.
MS BAKER: You remember it clearly. Did the team leader or the support workers speak to you about those rules?
SOPHIE: Team leader.
MS BAKER: At the beginning of the rules, it says you would like to be able to meet people at the house, as that's your home and you would like to meet people on your own turf?
MS BAKER: Is that an expression of how you felt at the time?
MS BAKER: If I could have the document so you and I can both see it? It might be on your screen as well, I'm not sure. Could we have another document for Sophie? The rules say we have rule 1, that you will let staff know about any potential visits with as much notice as possible?
MS BAKER: And to make sure it fits around other clients' schedules?
MS BAKER: Rule 2 is that you would like any staff who are on duty to meet the visitor on or around arrival?
MS BAKER: Rule 3 is that you will then either go for a walk, sit outside or sit in the lounge area outside your room if it will not interfere with Tyler's care.
MS BAKER: Rule 4 is that you, Sophie, will not enter your room and close the door with the visitor, and if you do enter the room with the visitor, you will leave the door open?
MS BAKER: Now, what I want to ask you about is did you agree with these rules?
SOPHIE: I did.
MS BAKER: Did you agree when you say you agreed, can you tell us what you mean by that?
SOPHIE: I actually signed a binding contract.
MS BAKER: Did you personally agree with them or did you just sign that you had agreed with them?
SOPHIE: Fifty fifty.
MS BAKER: How did you feel about the rules?
SOPHIE: To be honest with you?
MS BAKER: Yes.
SOPHIE: I hated them.
MS BAKER: Why did you hate them?
SOPHIE: Because I'm an adult, I'm not a kid.
MS BAKER: These were the kinds of rules you would expect if you were a kid?
SOPHIE: I'm not a teenager. Come on! I'm a 23 year old woman.
MS BAKER: When you said earlier in answer to my question that you agreed with
them, you agreed to comply with them?
MS BAKER: But you didn't agree they were appropriate rules?
MS BAKER: The next rule is if staff notice that you and your visitor
CHAIR: Sophie, would you like to have a little break at the moment?
SOPHIE: No, I'm all right.
CHAIR: Are you sure?
MS BAKER: Just let me know whenever you do, okay?
MS BAKER: Sophie, the next rule and I should say, the beginning of this says that it applies to male visitors.
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: The next rule, which is rule 5, says that if staff notice that you and your visitor are in your room with the door closed, you would request staff on duty to knock, make sure you are safe and suggest a walk or sitting outside. How did you feel about that rule? Similar?
SOPHIE: Hated it.
MS BAKER: For the same reasons?
MS BAKER: Then rule 6:
If further, intimate action is planned, it must be off the premises and staff will be made aware of where they are going.
The first question I want to ask is, that phrase "intimate action", what was your understanding of what was meant by that?
SOPHIE: Kissing, cuddling.
MS BAKER: Kissing and cuddling?
MS BAKER: Kissing, cuddling and anything beyond?
MS BAKER: How did you feel about that rule?
SOPHIE: Hated it.
MS BAKER: Hated it for the same reasons?
MS BAKER: Do you remember ever being shown a further version of those rules?
MS BAKER: You can't remember ever being shown?
MS BAKER: I would like to show you a document. That can also be put on the live feed. It's a document of 29 June 2017 and it can be found in hearing bundle C, tab 367. I will show you this document. This is a document, as I say, that is no longer entitled "Interim Safety Plan", it's now entitled "Safety Plan" and it has a later date on it. Is that a document you can remember, looking at it now?
MS BAKER: You can? Was that a document that was shown to you some time after
MS BAKER: Not shown to you?
MS BAKER: Not ever, as far as you can remember?
SOPHIE: As far as I can remember.
MS BAKER: There's a new rule in this document which is that no visitor will be
invited after 6pm, and that if a visitor arrives after this time, either you will go out or alternative plans will be made. Do you remember that rule coming into effect at some stage?
MS BAKER: How did you feel about that rule?
SOPHIE: I hated it.
MS BAKER: Same reasons, or anything in addition to what you have spoken about?
SOPHIE: Same reasons.
MS BAKER: That it was a childish rule that didn't recognise your maturity?
MS BAKER: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the rules or about how you felt about the rules, or does that pretty much cover it?
SOPHIE: That pretty much covers it.
MS BAKER: Thank you. Sophie, the next thing I want to speak to you about is in September 2017, you tell us in your statement that you were sexually assaulted.
SOPHIE: 2018, sorry.
MS BAKER: Thank you. That was a traumatic event and I am not going to ask you about the assault itself, but if it's okay with you, I do want to ask you some questions?
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Again, if at any stage you want to stop answering questions, you just let me know. Is that okay?
MS BAKER: You tell us in your statement that you met a man online? Again, I do need you for the transcript to say "yes" rather than nodding.
SOPHIE: Yes, sorry.
MS BAKER: He was also from Brisbane?
SOPHIE: Yes no. He worked in Brisbane, but he was actually from [redacted].
MS BAKER: At the time, he was working and living in Brisbane; is that right?
MS BAKER: So he drove down from Brisbane to the house to meet you?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that he arrived at about 9 o'clock?
MS BAKER: He wasn't allowed to come into the house?
MS BAKER: Was that because of the rules, those rules we have just spoken about?
MS BAKER: Did any of the support workers speak to the man when he arrived?
SOPHIE: Support Worker 2.
MS BAKER: Spoke to the man?
MS BAKER: You don't need to say which support worker, just a support worker?
SOPHIE: A support worker spoke to the man.
MS BAKER: After speaking to the man, was it agreed that you would then go and have some dinner with the man?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that the man took you for takeaway dinner and then took you to a public park, where he sexually assaulted you?
SOPHIE: To a football park.
MS BAKER: After the assault, you were then taken back to the house and then taken to hospital?
SOPHIE: Yes, he drove me back to the house.
MS BAKER: He drove you back to the house and I think one of the support workers got his number plate?
MS BAKER: Then
SOPHIE: Which I thought was very nice of them.
MS BAKER: Then you were taken to the hospital?
MS BAKER: You remained there a couple of days?
MS BAKER: Did any of the support workers come and visit you in the hospital?
MS BAKER: How did that make you feel?
SOPHIE: Hurt, upset, angry.
MS BAKER: When you returned from the hospital, how did the support workers treat you then?
SOPHIE: At first they were very warm to me, very nice, open arms, and then they turned really sour towards me.
MS BAKER: The man who sexually assaulted you, you understand that he was charged?
MS BAKER: He was ultimately found guilty?
MS BAKER: He was imprisoned?
MS BAKER: But when you first came back to the house after leaving the hospital, he pleaded well, you were told that he had pleaded not guilty and that you might
have to give evidence?
SOPHIE: Actually, no. He took a plea bargain.
MS BAKER: So there was a plea bargain at a later stage?
MS BAKER: But in the early stages, you thought you would have to give evidence at the trial?
MS BAKER: How did you feel about that? Were you anxious, apprehensive?
SOPHIE: Nervous, scared, vulnerable, upset, sad, terrified.
MS BAKER: Were these things that you wanted to speak to the support workers about?
SOPHIE: Of course.
MS BAKER: Both about what had happened to you, but also about your fear about the trial?
SOPHIE: Because I trusted them with my life.
MS BAKER: You now understand that some of the workers weren't able to talk to you because they also had to give evidence in the trial?
MS BAKER: Did anyone from Life Without Barriers explain that to you at the time?
MS BAKER: Did you have any counselling after the assault?
MS BAKER: Do you remember, was that counselling provided by the prosecution or was that counselling provided
SOPHIE: The prosecution.
MS BAKER: Do you remember whether Life Without Barriers provided you with any counselling?
MS BAKER: Do you think you received enough support after the sexual assault?
SOPHIE: I don't think so.
MS BAKER: Is there any other support that would have been helpful to you at that time?
SOPHIE: If I had the sex education when I was in grade school from year 8 to year 10, that assault would have never happened.
MS BAKER: So the sex education was something that you felt was lacking?
MS BAKER: Also, in terms of the support after the assault, would it have helped to get some more counselling besides what the prosecution had provided you with?
MS BAKER: You have said to us that you were anxious about giving evidence at the trial?
SOPHIE: I was nervous as hell.
MS BAKER: In March 2019, you were taken to the courthouse?
MS BAKER: How were you feeling when you came back from that?
SOPHIE: Well, I went to I went shopping afterwards and then I came home, and I wanted to speak to one of the support workers, who completely ignored me.
MS BAKER: How did it make you feel when she completely ignored you?
SOPHIE: I felt really hurt, really saddened, really deflated. So I swore, didn't I.
MS BAKER: So you swore, and then there was an incident with some of the support workers that you now regret; is that right?
MS BAKER: After the incident, you had to move out of the Lismore house?
MS BAKER: How did you feel about that?
SOPHIE: I absolutely hated it.
MS BAKER: You hated it?
MS BAKER: Would you have preferred to stay in the Lismore house if you were allowed?
MS BAKER: Were you allowed to say goodbye to any of the residents?
MS BAKER: Was that something you would have preferred to do?
MS BAKER: You say in your statement that you tried a couple of other houses and some of them didn't work out, but eventually you found a house that you enjoyed?
MS BAKER: That is with a different service provider?
MS BAKER: Are you happy in the new house?
SOPHIE: Mmm hmm.
MS BAKER: Can you explain what it is that makes you happy about this house in comparison to the Lismore house?
SOPHIE: In [REDACTED]?
MS BAKER: The house where you are right now.
SOPHIE: Oh, okay. It's a more it's like a home, like what I had with my growing up. It's got one housemate in it, she's more friendlier than Natalie and Tyler.
MS BAKER: More similar communication abilities to you compared to
SOPHIE: Bit less.
MS BAKER: Bit less, but similar?
MS BAKER: Do you have your own support workers in that house?
SOPHIE: Yes well, we share.
MS BAKER: You share the support workers?
SOPHIE: Yes, but she's well read.
MS BAKER: She is well read?
SOPHIE: Which is something I like.
MS BAKER: So you like to be able to speak to her about reading books
MS BAKER: and books that you both enjoy?
MS BAKER: Yes. Does that pretty much cover it or is there anything else you want to talk to us about?
SOPHIE: We both like swimming.
MS BAKER: Yes?
SOPHIE: We both like Dr Phil, we both like A Current Affair.
MS BAKER: So you share a lot of interests, in terms of movies and TV and books that you can speak to her about?
MS BAKER: And that improves your life, living in a place that's very much your home?
MS BAKER: In comparison to Lismore?
MS BAKER: You also say in your statement that you had a recent NDIS planning session which you say wasn't a good experience. Can you explain why?
SOPHIE: The guy on the phone didn't know what he was talking about.
MS BAKER: When you say he didn't know what he was talking about, do you mean he didn't know the NDIS or he didn't understand you?
SOPHIE: About the NDIS.
MS BAKER: He didn't understand the NDIS?
MS BAKER: What about his communications to you, did he speak to you or was that mainly done through an advocate?
SOPHIE: It was mainly done through an advocate.
MS BAKER: I would like to finish by asking you what advice you have for Life Without Barriers and service providers like them?
SOPHIE: Just make sure you actively listen to your clients and make sure you actively listen to the support workers in training and make sure you really have their best interests at heart, because you never know when an instance like what I've been through will happen again. Thank you and goodnight.
MS BAKER: Thank you so much, Sophie.
SOPHIE: You're welcome.
MS BAKER: It has been a real privilege to speak to you today. I think some of the Commissioners may have some questions to ask.
CHAIR: Is it okay with you if I ask Commissioner Galbally and Commissioner McEwin if they have a question or two?
SOPHIE: Of course.
CHAIR: I will start with Commissioner Galbally and ask if she has a question for you.
QUESTIONS BY THE COMMISSION
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you so much for your evidence. Are two people easier to live with, just two of you, compared with four?
SOPHIE: I think two people is easier to live with because if you live with four people, it gets too overwhelming, too many dynamics in the household.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Did you have a bit of a choice about the woman you currently live with?
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: No choice, okay. Would you liked to have had a choice?
SOPHIE: Yes, defo.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. Commissioner McEwin.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Sophie, thank you. It was so important for me to listen to what you had to say. I have one question. What are your hopes for the future? Commissioner Galbally asked about your current where you live. What about employment, working, anything? What hopes do you have?
MS BAKER: Sophie, can I ask you to answer the question to Commissioner McEwin.
SOPHIE: In five years' time, I would like to work for you guys.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Well, thank you. We may not be here in five years' time
SOPHIE: That's okay.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: and I think the Chair might have a different view, but however.
CHAIR: I can tell you I won't be here in five years' time.
SOPHIE: But I mean the Royal Commission.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Yes. Sophie, perhaps you mean you would like to work with government to help people with disabilities?
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Thank you. That is helpful to me.
SOPHIE: To tell you the truth, guys, I love all you guys.
CHAIR: Thank you, Sophie. I will just ask one of the lawyers something, if you don't mind?
CHAIR: I will ask whether the representative of Life Without Barriers wishes to make an application about asking questions. I assume not, but I will ask just in case.
MS MITCHELMORE: Commissioner, no, I don't wish to make any application, thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Sophie, I would like to thank you very much, indeed. You have come a long way to give evidence. It's not always easy to give evidence, because you haven't been in this room or been asked questions like this before. And as Commissioner McEwin said, your evidence is really, really important to us and we have learned a lot.
SOPHIE: I really think that more people need to do it. It is so important. I am very passionate about you guys. I am very passionate about people with disabilities. It just warms my heart to see all you guys doing the best to your abilities to help people, and so forth. I mean that.
CHAIR: Sophie, that is the best thing you could have said to us, so thank you very much. It has been a real privilege to hear your evidence today and we all wish you the very, very best. Thank you again.
SOPHIE: Thank you.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
MS BAKER: It might be convenient to take a short adjournment.
CHAIR: Yes. How long?
MS BAKER: 15 minutes, if that's suitable?
CHAIR: We will resume at 2.15 Eastern Daylight Time.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Griffin.
MR GRIFFIN: I now call the next two witnesses to give concurrent evidence. They are Greg and Michelle, the parents of Sophie who has just given evidence.
Greg has provided a statement for this public hearing, dated 16 November 2021, reference STAT.0477.0001.0001. This statement is at hearing bundle A, tab 2. The annexures to Greg's statement are at hearing bundle A, tabs 7 to 9.
The statement from Michelle that has been provided for this public hearing is dated 16 November 2021, reference STAT.0478.0001.0001. This statement is in hearing bundle A, tab 3, and the annexures to Michelle's statement are at hearing bundle A, tabs 10 to 38.
CHAIR: I hope you don't mind me calling you Greg and Michelle. Thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission. I know you have travelled some distance to be here. We are very appreciative that you have been prepared to come and give evidence to us.
I will ask my associate to administer the oath to you and if you would be good enough to follow his instructions, please do.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Just so you are aware, and you may already be aware of where everybody is, Commissioner Galbally is participating in the hearing from Melbourne and you can see her on the screen; Commissioner McEwin, I'm sure you know, is on my right in tis room; and Mr Griffin is also in the room and I will now ask Mr Griffin to ask you some questions.
If at any time either of you feel that you would like to have a break, please let us know. That can be done without any difficulty.
EXAMINATION BY MR GRIFFIN
MR GRIFFIN: Can I begin with a formal question, Michelle. Do you tell this Commission that the contents of your statement are true and correct to the best of your ability?
MR GRIFFIN: Can I repeat the question to you, Greg: are the contents of your statement true to the best of your ability?
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, how many children do you and Michelle have?
GREG: We have three biological children and two adopted children who we adopted during their adulthood.
MR GRIFFIN: Michelle, what has been your work during your career?
SOPHIE: I am a child protection caseworker for New South Wales government, for the Department of Communities and Justice.
MR GRIFFIN: How long have you been doing that type of work?
MICHELLE: Nearly 16 years now.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, what was your area of employment?
GREG: My major area of employment was as a university lecturer in the field of information technology and computer science.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I ask you each in turn to tell the Commissioners about your daughter Sophie.
GREG: Would you like to go first?
MICHELLE: Yes. Sophie is a very strong, self willed individual. She's quite a character, that you obviously have witnessed.
She was born at 25 weeks' gestation, one of twins, and she wasn't expected to live the night. They said if she did survive, there was a 20 per cent chance of survival. Unfortunately, her twin died after a few weeks, five weeks, but Sophie, she was a fighter and she fought from day one, to the point where she was pulling her oxygen tubes out and the paediatrician said if she's strong enough to get that out, she's strong enough to breathe on her own. And that's how she has been for her entire life.
Not only does she have left hemiplegia, cerebral palsy, she's an epileptic, she is also partially sighted and has done a lot of work with the dogs oh, senior moment. Anyway, with training with the and also she's hard of hearing and requires hearing aids.
She's got a great sense of justice and will advocate for anybody who needs someone to advocate for them. She hates to see someone being belittled or put down or hurt.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg?
GREG: Yes, I'd support all of that, of course. I think she is effervescent and charming and intelligent and accomplished, very accomplished, to the extent that her disabilities and her difficulties in her life have prevented her from doing certain things. But she has prevailed and she has fought to do the things that she wants to do.
Sophie has recently gone back to horse riding, she has recently gone back to swimming, activities we thought had been left in her late teens. But through her new position, where she is happy and well looked after, they reintroduced these activities to her.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, can I ask you to do your best, and I know it's difficult, to use the same "Sophie".
GREG: Yes. I do apologise.
MR GRIFFIN: In the same way, I will endeavour to keep calling you "Greg".
GREG: Sorry. I do apologise.
MR GRIFFIN: That's quite all right. Based on your experience of living with Sophie, what, in general terms, are the sort of supports that she requires?
GREG: Sophie requires basic assistance with personal care, showering, bathing, that sort of activity. Sophie requires assistance in adequately dressing herself. Sophie can make an attempt at dressing herself to a certain extent, but oftentimes the result of that is inadequate dressing, in the sense of a top is inside out or back to front, something of that nature. Issues with putting on shoes. Even brushing her hair is difficult for her to do.
She needs support and Sophie is not could not be a good cook. Sophie can make toast, cups of tea, and the like, but nothing more sophisticated than that.
Sophie needs help to manage her financial affairs. Sophie can handle money to a certain degree. She can handle the notes and accept change. She can usually figure out when a price is required to buy something, she hands over the notes which are
above that particular price and takes the change, to the extent that she has handbags that are full of silver because she keeps employing that particular trick.
In terms of medium to long term planning with her finances, Sophie can't handle that aspect of her life. Sophie likes to when she receives her pension, I finally got her to simply take out half in the first week and half in the second week of her pension, but that doesn't always work. Sometimes she takes out at the ATM all of her cash and leaves herself short towards the end of the second week.
So that's partially in the nature of her capacity. Would you like to say anything else about how she needs supporting?
MICHELLE: Around the dressing, in particular, she can't use her left hand to get herself dressed, so often she can't pull up her underwear on that side of her body or and the same when she's grooming. She has difficulty doing anything on the right side because she's got limited use in her left hand.
She needs support in explaining things to her when she doesn't understand what's about to happen. It needs to be really explained to her because she does have extreme anxiety. Sophie does have challenging behaviours. Sophie grew up in our house when she was living with us and she's extremely challenging and requires a lot of hard work to keep that under control. Not under control, but an understanding of what's triggering her, so that you can intercept it before it gets out of control.
MR GRIFFIN: You might remember in the opening I referred to behaviours of concern. Is it fair to say that on occasions Sophie can be, to use my words, a bit of a handful?
MICHELLE: Yes, absolutely.
MR GRIFFIN: What have you learnt over the years as to how to identify what is causing her behaviour and how you can assist her?
MICHELLE: You can tell by her body language, you can tell by the way she's talking that she's starting to get really anxious and upset. If you try and downplay it or ignore it, she get more and more angry and frustrated. Sophie needs you to remain calm and treat her like an adult. She hates being treated like a child. If you talk to her as an adult, you can usually deflect from what's happening.
She goes into the fight or flight mode when she's anxious, so she'll either come out fighting or she'll run. Growing up we didn't have a great deal of understanding when she was growing up and she was younger about that effect and what the anxiety was. As things became more available and people can read more about these things, we now know why and when it's going to happen.
For example, when she was growing up, she would sabotage an outing. We couldn't understand why she wasn't happy to go to Dreamworld and she'd be sabotaging it.
Back then, you know, it was really distressing and her siblings would be distressed. Now we understand why, it's because of that anxiety of going to a different place. So she does require an understanding from people who work with her about how that anxiety can affect her.
GREG: It's the case, I believe, that you should acknowledge her anxiety.
GREG: And start the approach with, "I can hear that you are becoming anxious, Sophie, I can hear that you are becoming upset, so let's take a short time to take deep breaths and think through what it is that you are saying and think through and explain to me what it is that you are feeling at the moment and how the events that are unfolding have led to you feeling that way. Perhaps we can go and sit in a quiet place". Deep breaths, other strategies like that.
I think a soothing voice I talk to her slowly and calmly and acknowledge that she has an issue. That seems to help.
MR GRIFFIN: Does it follow from what you have just told us that it is really important for any support workers dealing with Sophie to have an understanding of what might trigger the behaviour and how they might have strategies to deal with it?
MICHELLE: Yes, and that's always been discussed wherever she's gone, whether it with be her day program or wherever she's lived. There has always been a behaviour plan put in place, as well as an epileptic plan, as well as her daily needs plans. In that has always been what the triggers would be and how to just bring it down.
MR GRIFFIN: Was that discussed with the workers at the Goonellabah house when Sophie moved in in 2011?
MICHELLE: I don't know if it was discussed with them. We wouldn't have discussed it with them, but they would have had access to the behaviour plan.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I ask both of you, in 2011 when, for family reasons, it was thought necessary for Sophie to move into a home, did anyone discuss with you what accommodation options might be available for someone with her particular needs?
MICHELLE: No. The house that she moved into when this all happened, Greg required two hip replacements within six months of each other and we were told this was an emergency transition house. This is where some young adults would go for a short period of time until a long term home could be found for them. So we believed that it would just be a temporary, until they could find some accommodation for her.
MR GRIFFIN: Is it true from about 2012 onwards, REDinc were actively looking for some form of accommodation?
MICHELLE: Yes, yes, there were people looking.
MR GRIFFIN: What were the results of their inquiries about alternative accommodation?
MICHELLE: They found one that she went to have a look at and she got to stay overnight. We're not sure why there was a lock on the outside door at the top of the door, but one of the other residents locked the door overnight and Sophie said that she was calling out to the night worker all night, who didn't hear her. So when because she was very distressed the next day. Then when we had a meeting to discuss her going to that house, Sophie was pretty adamant she wasn't going to go there because of that experience.
MR GRIFFIN: That was because on the one night she spent there someone had locked her in the room?
MICHELLE: Locked the door, yes. I don't believe it was the staff, it was another client, resident at the house. So, Sophie was pretty adamant she wasn't going there, so they then said, okay, they would look for something else. It's very limited as to the accommodation where we live. REDinc at one point did have a vacancy come up and we got to go and visit it and we thought it was pretty good, it was not far from where we lived, but other management at REDinc said that Sophie wasn't a suitable candidate to go to that house and they wouldn't they didn't give the okay for her to move there.
So as things started to deteriorate more, we said, well, we're going to have to widen the field. We'll go from Tweed to Coffs, and that's when some [REDACTED] accommodation started to become available.
MR GRIFFIN: So you looked in the whole region over a period of years?
MR GRIFFIN: Let me take you back to moving into the Goonellabah house. You said that was meant to be emergency accommodation. Do you recall Natalie and Tyler moving into that house?
GREG: Only in the since that we were told they had moved in.
MR GRIFFIN: I was going to ask you, was there any consultation with you before two new residents were introduced to the house?
MR GRIFFIN: Was the first time you found out about it once they had moved in?
MR GRIFFIN: Would you have preferred to have a discussion about whether or not those were appropriate people to move into the house?
MICHELLE: I don't think a discussion about whether they were appropriate. It was an emergency transition house, so they were only going to be there for that temporary time as well. It would have been nice just to be informed that we've got new residents and just maybe a little bit about them. We knew Natalie from when she was about two, so he knew her. We didn't know Tyler. I just think that maybe it was a bit more courteous for them to have informed us that they were getting new residents and this is what it's going to look like.
GREG: Then perhaps we could have talked to Sophie about it, too, and talked her through some issue that she may have had about
CHAIR: Can I ask you, when you are talking about "they" might have told you, who are you referring to?
MICHELLE: Life Without Barriers.
CHAIR: At that time you were dealing with Life Without Barriers?
MR GRIFFIN: Was it the case that Natalie and Tyler had higher support needs than Sophie?
MICHELLE: Yes, physical needs, yes.
MR GRIFFIN: Did that have an effect upon the support provided to Sophie, from your observation?
MICHELLE: Yes, it did.
GREG: From our observation, yes.
MR GRIFFIN: In what way?
MICHELLE: Well, we were aware that she wasn't getting the support in the
morning to get dressed. So we'd bump into her in the street and she wouldn't be wearing a bra and when we asked her why not, she'd say "Because the staff haven't got time to put one on me". We were aware that she was often quite smelt of BO and her hair was very greasy, so we were starting to realise that she wasn't perhaps having her personal care attended to. She would just say things like, you know, "They haven't got time for me".
MR GRIFFIN: Did you raise that with the LWB staff at the house?
GREG: Yes, we did, we talked to them about it. We said, "This is unacceptable. Why is this happening?", in a conversational way, rather than in any formal complaint sort of way. "Why is this happening?" We would talk to to the frontline staff and the manager at the time and, honestly, I can't remember the to and fro of the conversations but it was clear
MICHELLE: There were several times we raised this with Life Without Barriers. The staff would often say to us, "We just don't have time". And then arrangements were made for Naomi, one of the other residents, to help Sophie dress in the mornings, which was not ideal because she was having to put shoes and socks on her, she was having to help her with her bra, straighten herself up.
Then there were times when we'd bump into her and she still didn't have a bra on. We'd ask Sophie, "What's happened?", and she'd say, "Naomi didn't have time this morning". She often would say, "I have to be quick because I've got to catch the bus in the morning", and so would race out the door to catch her bus, so they could spend time on the ones that were in wheelchairs. Those people then got the Life Without Barriers bus down to the day care centre where Sophie was, that had to catch the bus.
MR GRIFFIN: When you say the day care centre, was that a facility where REDinc provided services?
MICHELLE: Yes. So they had different programs on for all the clients through the week. It's got a central place in Lismore and then there would be activities at different places.
MR GRIFFIN: What sort of activities was Sophie doing under the auspices of REDinc?
MICHELLE: Initially, she was doing quite a number of things. She had about four half days a week doing activities. She would do drama, signing, choir, she would do art. There was lots of different things. Community participation where she would go around op shops, some group activities because they'd pool the money so they could have a whole group of people.
Once the NDIS came in, that was then reduced. She got less funding and because they couldn't pool the money anymore, I think it was two times a week she had an activity.
MR GRIFFIN: When you use the expression "pool the money", what do you mean?
MICHELLE: Well, before NDIS, all the clients would have some money allocated and then they would run a group, so that the cost of it was divided around the group. Once the NDIS came in, for some reason that just didn't work.
GREG: It was a form of creative accounting, I think. If they could hire a professional person to come and teach art, for example, to three people, then the cost for six people was halved, and everybody would be happy because the ratio of six to one is almost as good as three to one. So that was the ethos behind that, we believe. A that little bit of
CHAIR: Before the NDIS came in, what was the source of the funds that were pooled?
MICHELLE: Well, that would have been from DADIC(?), would it?
GREG: Yes, it would have been DADIC.
MICHELLE: Funding from DADIC.
MR GRIFFIN: And DADIC is?
MICHELLE: Disability and aged care.
GREG: Which no longer exists; is that true?
CHAIR: You mean the state department?
CHAIR: So, in effect, it was a kind of block grants from the institution, as distinct from the individual packages from the NDIS?
GREG: Yes, that's correct. Also I should say at that time prior to the NDIS, Sophie also attended community college and she did a number of courses there, including information technology. Did she do Italian?
GREG: She did Italian there as well and had some certification around that.
MR GRIFFIN: I'm very conscious, Greg, that some people use the term "creative accounting" in a pejorative fashion. Am I correct in saying that what you are really
saying is they worked out a way to get more bang for your buck.
GREG: Yes, that's correct. It was to the benefit of the clients, in my opinion.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Before you go on, sorry, with the NDIS, what was your understanding? What information were you given when it began, as you understand Sophie's plan? Maybe briefly explain what was your understanding?
MICHELLE: We went to an information session. When the NDIS first rolled out, they sent people around the place giving out information sessions. So we had that basic one. We didn't really understand how it would affect Sophie herself, we just knew there was this general new thing coming out.
Then we were told that all the ones who were living in residentials were going to be rolled out first, so she would be one of the first ones to get it. It just, sort of, flowed into her getting the NDIS package. But it was never really explained to us. Then we became aware that what she was getting was a lot less than what other people were getting, and we could never understand why she got less and other people got more, and whatever. But there was a definite decrease in what she was able to do at the day program.
GREG: I think it's fair to say at the beginning of the NDIS, the complexity and the size of the scheme itself was both confusing to those who were receiving the packages and to those who were providing that funding. There was, I would say, approximately at least a two year gap between the professionals starting the process and getting to grips.
When the first round of information came out, they were still working on a glossary of terms. So the workers didn't actually know which were common English terms and which were specifically technical terms for the NDIS. And we didn't either. So it was very confusing for us at that time.
MICHELLE: It's still very confusing.
GREG: It's still confusing but I believe the professionals have a handle on it now.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Thank you.
MR GRIFFIN: I take it from what you have said that you were pleased with the services provided by REDinc?
MICHELLE: Initially, yes.
MICHELLE: She was always happy, initially, with REDinc.
MR GRIFFIN: What was good about the services initially?
MICHELLE: Because the service was very client focused. They tried very hard to meet everyone's individual need. You would have a meeting of what you wanted to do that year and how that would work. So initially, yes. And the staff she had, I think, were very client focused but experienced. But then as the service grew and the funding changed and turnover of staff, yes, there started to be a few hiccups.
MR GRIFFIN: Can you remember in what year that change emerged?
MICHELLE: It would have been when she moved to the Goonellabah no, to the Lismore house. That was roughly when the NDIS came in, wasn't it, just before?
MICHELLE: So, I don't know, '16/'17.
MR GRIFFIN: Before I leave REDinc, is it the case that they supported Sophie, both in relation to forming relationships and also in the time of the breakup with her fiance?
MICHELLE: They were very supportive of her. When she did break off with her fiance, they facilitated a meeting where he had a support worker, she had a support worker and she could tell him why she no longer wanted to marry him and was able to give him back the engagement ring and then they were separated and the support worker supported each one.
MR GRIFFIN: Did that make that time easier for you as well?
MICHELLE: Yes, yes, it did.
GREG: Yes, yes, it did, to know that they our understanding is that was handled very well and sensitively, and it was well done for Sophie.
MICHELLE: Sophie handled it really well, too. Apparently the gentleman yelled quite a bit at her and was really quite nasty, and she just stood there and said, "Look, mate, I just want to be friends. I don't love you and I just want to be friends", and walked away. They gave her lots of praise and then they gave us the feedback afterwards, that they were very proud of the way she'd managed the situation.
MR GRIFFIN: Michelle, it sounds like a model of how to do it well.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I ask you about some paid work that Sophie was doing.
MR GRIFFIN: I understand she was at a workplace where she was putting cards in envelopes and packing needles into boxes. At the time she was doing that work, do you recall any discussion as to what type of work Sophie might be able to do?
MICHELLE: She was working at the sheltered workplace. They had a few things that they do. One was gardening and another one was in the soap factory, where they'd actually make soap and package it and then sell it. Another one was packing boxes. I don't recall her really having much of a choice. She was offered to do some work there. She was so desperate to have work that she accepted it. So we supported her because that's what she wanted. I think she got something stupid like $2.50 an hour, some ridiculous amount, but anyway, it would have been very boring and repetitive work for Sophie, but she was really happy to be going out to work.
MR GRIFFIN: Why did that work, even though it may have been boring, make her happy?
MICHELLE: Because it was all about her self worth. She wants to contribute. She wants to contribute to society and she felt that she should be going out to work, too.
MR GRIFFIN: It sounds, from your description, Michelle, that those jobs were in somewhat sheltered environments?
MR GRIFFIN: Was it ever discussed with you and with Sophie whether she could work in the open community?
MICHELLE: It was discussed, I believe, at REDinc when they thought that maybe she could work in one of the op shops and do some experience working in one of those, but that never eventuated. REDinc eventually got its own op shop but she was never offered the opportunity to go and work there.
We discussed things like working at the art gallery, just greeting people as they came in. Things like that were always discussed but never actually came to any fruition.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, did you have any view about what work you thought she could have comfortably done at that time?
GREG: Well, at that time, I thought that meet and greet concierge type work would be ideal for Sophie. In retrospect, I think that was probably over ambitious. Sophie does have a low fatigue level. Several hours two hours of work would perhaps be enough for her, physically draining upon her. Also, intellectually, she may have felt when you greeted the 50th person coming in, it's pretty much the same and she would have perhaps engaged them in a conversation about literature, which is not the role of the job that I envisaged.
When she was a little girl, I thought we used to go to the Spastic Centre in Brisbane, which was called the Spastic Centre at that time, and the receptionist there was a lady who had cerebral palsy and I kind of hoped that maybe Sophie could do that sort of job. But I think that was just a father having wishful thinking and ambitions for his daughter.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you give thought to whether she might achieve a job in an open community by a series of steps, working up to it?
MICHELLE: Yes. Obviously we always think about these things, but Sophie's always going to need a degree of support. She's not going to be able to do it on her own, completely on her own.
GREG: Yes. With REDinc, I remember pushing the issue that Sophie should be on the preparation for work program they had there, and I felt that it was a community access program was insufficient for her. But they always felt, given her disabilities, that she could not enter those programs. There were gardeners, folks working at McDonalds, and so on, and they felt Sophie perhaps could not do that sort of work. I think they were probably right in that respect.
MR GRIFFIN: Michelle, in your statement you refer to Sophie being upset when she was suspended for hitting another employee who would not stop singing. What were the events surrounding that incident?
MICHELLE: From my understanding, what happened, from Sophie, was that there was another worker behind her who was singing quite loudly, has got music playing quite loudly. Because she's hard of hearing, any sudden loud noises affect her. She asked the person to turn the music down or to put her headphones on, which was ignored, and I believe it escalated, so Sophie turned around and hit her.
There would have been workers on the floor, so I'm not sure how close they would have been to have heard what was going on. So she got suspended straight away and then eventually they said she couldn't go back. They had a discussion with the other workers I recall this. They had a discussion with the other workers about Sophie going back and they didn't want her going back, so she was then told she wouldn't be going back.
MR GRIFFIN: Was she most upset about the fact that she couldn't go back or the fact that she'd been suspended?
MR GRIFFIN: Also in 2015, she was assaulted by a woman at a bus stop?
MR GRIFFIN: What happened?
GREG: My understanding of what happened is that this was a person who was known to Sophie for many number of years, and this other lady is assertive and would like things done in her own way, in the order that she would like doing. I believe there were some issues around a bag, maybe a bag being swung around, as in a large backpack or something. As a consequence of that, Sophie and her got into an argument over some element of getting onto the bus or dealing with this swinging bag that kept hitting Sophie. As a consequence of that, this lady who we know a little bit about, she struck Sophie.
MR GRIFFIN: It sounds like 2015 was a difficult year. She had a suspension from the workplace, there had been the breakup of the engagement and then the assault at the bus stop. Did you notice a change in her behaviour during the course of that year with all of those things happening?
GREG: That's an interesting question.
MICHELLE: No. I mean, she was getting increasingly more unhappy, I know that much. We were getting more and more phone calls from her, talking about things that had happened, often about the staff at the house not listening to her, but, yes, it was just a gradual yes.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, did you have to go to the Goonellabah house to calm Sophie down on occasions, or did that only happen in the Lismore house?
GREG: To the best of my knowledge, I believe that I did not have to go to the Goonellabah I did not have to go.
MICHELLE: No, you did.
GREG: I did?
MR GRIFFIN: What do you recollect, Michelle?
MICHELLE: I remember him being called to say that she needed to be she wasn't calming down, and he went up there. The police were actually called at that time. We were called quite regularly. Greg would go quite regularly down to the house in Lismore. There were times where they would phone up and we were able to calm her down over the phone, so there wasn't a need for us to go down, but Greg would go at times and just deflect the situation. Sometimes we would just take her out, other times we could just do it and then just leave.
MR GRIFFIN: When you went to the house and calmed Sophie down, were the staff members interested in seeing the techniques or the methods you used to do that?
GREG: No, they just left us to our own devices. I suspect they just thought, well, dad's here, he'll deal with it.
MR GRIFFIN: Did that become more prevalent when she moved to the Lismore house?
MR GRIFFIN: Was that because you lived very close by to the Lismore house?
GREG: Both houses were roughly the same distance. Distance was not an issue.
MR GRIFFIN: Do you have any recollection of any staff member at Lismore house sitting down with either of you and saying words to the effect, "You seem to know how to calm Sophie down in certain situations. How do you do it?"
MICHELLE: No, never.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you offer to assist them in that task?
MICHELLE: We didn't offer as in say, "We'll show you what to do or what to say". We would often ask them questions like, well, what caused it, what was the antecedent to this behaviour, so they could see what was happening before the behaviour and then what the consequences were afterwards.
On a couple of occasions I asked different members “what's the antecedent?” and they said, "What's that?" So they didn't know what an antecedent was. To me, that's a way of showing somebody how to assess a situation. Let's see what was happening before she went off, so next time we can, you know, stop it before it gets that far. But they weren't aware what I meant by that.
Obviously when we had our yearly meetings, we actually had to have meetings with her clinical person, too, who was doing her behaviour plan. We had meetings with him and all these things were discussed at that time.
GREG: We were constantly telling them, "You have to watch her, you have to look for signs that she's unhappy". And the key thing is she must not feel as though she's being ignored and she must not feel that she's being demeaned through that being ignored.
MR GRIFFIN: When you said that during the preparation of the plans, was that noted down?
MICHELLE: Well, it should have been.
GREG: It should have been.
MICHELLE: You would hope they would put that in as part of their training for their staff. I went to the manager at Life Without Barriers to the office in Alstonville at one time to discuss her escalating behaviours. I actually showed him on a piece of paper her level of what people's anxiety is and how anxiety can go up a little bit and then back down again to a base level, and up a little bit, and how hers goes up but doesn't quite come back down to that base level and just keeps going until it peaks. He took that from me and said, "That's good stuff to know", and he took that piece of paper off me.
But these are the people who are working with adults with disabilities. They should know. This is simple. This is A, B, C training. They should have had this right from the beginning. When they start working there, they should have been familiarised with the behaviour plan, given the profile of the person. When they do handovers, if there's been something that happens in the morning, then that afternoon person needs to know what's happened in the morning so they can look out for her escalating. But we felt there was nothing like that.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I move on to the Lismore house. That was a brand new facility.
MR GRIFFIN: What hopes did you have when Sophie and others transferred to Lismore?
GREG: Extremely high hopes; high hopes borne, in the first instance, out of a purpose built facility. It was clean, new, purpose built; the bathrooms were all wheel in bathrooms; there were breakout spaces. We have heard perhaps in testimony that the corridors were narrow. That's not my recollection. They were certainly wide enough to turn a wheelchair in, if not get two wheelchairs side by side, so there's disagreement there.
MICHELLE: I disagree with that.
GREG: We can always put a ruler there. There was a lovely garden, too. So in that context, that fills one with expectation, the new house, the new car, the new present. I was expecting and hoping that beautiful environment would foster a better lifestyle.
MICHELLE: We went from a really old house at Goonellabah that was, you know, built probably in the 60s that was run down, it was mouldy, it needed total renovations done, in an area that was really not safe. There was a lot of problems in the area, so there was no way we would feel safe about Sophie going for a walk outside the house up at Goonellabah.
Once Sophie moved into the Lismore house, because it was in a nicer area, it was flat not on hills, she would be able to walk to the shops and it was in a safer area. We actually thought, well, this would be a better place for Sophie to live. It was that time of the movement that we were then told that because all the residents had been
together for a long time now and they all seemed to be getting on okay, this would become their permanent home. It was no longer this transition home, they would all be living together.
MR GRIFFIN: Did the level of support for Sophie increase, decrease or remain the same in the Lismore house?
MICHELLE: I would say
GREG: I'd be unequivocal: it decreased.
MICHELLE: Yes. We were always of the opinion that there was always somebody there at the house through the day if one of the residents were home. We always believed that was the case. It was later, especially after the assault on Sophie, the sexual assault on Sophie, the actual fact somebody left when they all left for their programs in the morning and someone didn't come back until the afternoon shift. If Natalie or Tyler were at home, there was always a staff member there. If Naomi or Sophie were at home through the day, there was no staff member there.
MR GRIFFIN: Do you want to add something, Greg?
GREG: No. That was exactly the situation that we found. It became clear in the Lismore house that this situation was taking place. It may well have been the case in the Goonellabah, we don't know. We didn't have that information.
CHAIR: Did the staff from Goonellabah move across to Lismore?
CHAIR: The same staff?
MR GRIFFIN: Michelle, in your statement you refer to poor communication between staff. What do you mean by that?
MICHELLE: Well, like I said with handovers, I don't think handovers were done very well. So someone in the evening on the evening shift may not know of something that happened in the morning.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you believe that because you spoke to staff from time to time and there seemed to be a different level of knowledge about Sophie?
MICHELLE: Yes. For example, Sophie's hearing aids wouldn't be charged and we were told, "Well, we haven't been trained". So Greg had gone down to train staff who were on at that time, how to charge her hearing aids. They didn't then show another person how to do it. So if the people that Greg saw were on, they were charged, but if it was others who hadn't been there at that time, they didn't charge them. The same with putting them in.
GREG: There was an instruction leaflet on how to do this which was placed I saw it placed in Sophie's folder. One assumes that the other staff were never referenced to this.
MICHELLE: Or refused to do it because they hadn't been shown. You know, "I haven't got time to read this", so it never got done.
GREG: In terms of record keeping, one of the things they had was some form of log book or journal as to the events of the day, which they would look through occasionally, and this was written in pencil. I thought that was perhaps not adequate for the level of care that these folks needed.
MR GRIFFIN: How complicated was it to charge some hearing aids and then to insert them?
GREG: Charging them was extremely easy. You plug the machine into the wall and you drop the hearing aids into it. It was a little bit more complicated about the sequence of lights that came on, but it was pretty clear that three green lights meant that they were fully charged.
Now, getting them into her ears was a different kettle of fish. One has to because they were moulded to her ear, one has to twist them in a particular way for them to sit there. I would say it would probably take a normal person maybe three goes before they got it right. I mean three training goes and then thereafter they would learn the trick of the twist of the wrist. So it was fiddly, but it was not
MICHELLE: We would meet her in the community and I'd say to her, "Oh, you've not got your hearing aids in, Sophie, where are they?" "Oh, the staff couldn't do it this morning", so she would go out without her hearing aids.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I move on to the issue of online dating. You became aware that Sophie was interested in forming relationships and at one stage she was going online quite a lot. Did you understand why that happened, why she seemed to have a lot of time to do that?
MICHELLE: She had a lot of spare time on her own, spent a lot of time in her room at the house. Her sister had met her boyfriend online, so she thought that's how, you know if she could do it, then Sophie thought she could do it. But she was spending an increasing amount of time alone on her own in a room. When she came and spent some time at our house, we found that she was taking off to her room on
her own. It became part of her pattern, to go and spend time on her own, and she was on her phone.
MR GRIFFIN: As far as you were aware, did staff know the extent to which she was going online?
MICHELLE: I don't think so at the beginning. I think it became more apparent as time went on, particularly as she started to meet people. And when the first guy came down to the house, I think they started to realise that she was getting on it more and more.
MR GRIFFIN: Had she had any counselling or education about going online and what the risks may be?
MICHELLE: At REDinc they did the cyber safety course with her and they had it as a group thing, so she didn't feel like it was just her, because at that time a lot of them were getting on to dating lines, a lot of the young women or men, so they did it as a group. We were aware of that.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you hear Sophie give evidence today when Ms Baker asked her some questions about the rules that were drawn up?
MR GRIFFIN: Did you have any involvement in that?
MICHELLE: No. I don't recall seeing those rules.
GREG: I do recall seeing those rules and at the time see, I'm affecting the position of a concerned parent, a concerned father about their daughter, and issues around online dating I'm very conflicted between the rights of an individual to have a full and wholesome life and the concern of a parent for their daughter, in general for their safety, but certainly a child who is vulnerable to the extent that Sophie is vulnerable. I'm very torn by this.
At that time, I sort of agreed that the rules were good and sensible. Something had to be done and at that time, I felt that it's still conflicting me at the moment. Your child has every right to every human experience and emotions, but you want to keep them safe. Hooking up with some guys on the internet and going to hotel rooms did not strike me at the time as safe, nor does it still, but I am beginning to realise that those choices should lie with the individual, albeit we have to keep them safe. It's a terrible balancing act to pull off. So in a sense, I was tacitly agreeing to the notion of rules put in place to protect her, but.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, accepting the fact that one can never step back from being the dad, do you now realise that at some point you have to consult with other people as to what may be best for someone in Sophie's position?
GREG: You mean in terms of sexual counsellors and the like?
MR GRIFFIN: Indeed.
GREG: Yes, to an extent. I still have a view that a sexual life should be pursued through the auspice of a loving relationship, in general. But the choice to not do that and have a full sexual life outside of a loving relationship is the choice of the individual, and certainly an adult. But one would still be concerned to look after the safety of the individual. So I take advice from
MR GRIFFIN: Did the rules, to a certain extent, provide you with some comfort from your perspective as dad?
GREG: Well, it was misplaced because Sophie could not bring a gentleman into her house, to her home, and the reasons were for issues of safety around virtually everybody else in the home except Sophie. This notion that she should go to motels for liaisons, the whole thing's replete with danger. So I'd rather it didn't take place at all, but that's sticking one's head in the sand. I struggle with this issue, I do. Sorry.
MR GRIFFIN: Don't apologise, Greg. Everyone who has thought about this issue recognises how incredibly complex it is on different levels. Michelle, do you have any thoughts on the discussion you have just heard?
MICHELLE: I think she has a right to explore relationships and to have a sexual relationship, or whether it just be a sexual encounter, but it needs to be done in a safe environment.
Had she been a male, I am very much aware in the world of the disability field that males can be taken to brothels and sometimes a female worker from a facility like that could come to the house. Tyler has regular massages at the house, and I'm not saying in any way that's a sexual thing, but he was allowed to have someone come in and give him a full body massage in a safe environment. I think it's a bit unfortunate that there's not the facilities for women to have the same opportunities that they do for the men, for them to have that experience, and whatever. So I think it might have been a bit different had she been a male.
I don't blame Life Without Barriers at all for her being sexually assaulted. That is the fault of the man who did it to her and he's serving a sentence and he will be deported when he is released. But I do hold them accountable for what happened before and what happened afterwards.
MR GRIFFIN: Yes. I will come to that in a moment. Greg, did you chaperon Sophie on a couple of dates?
GREG: I did, yes.
MR GRIFFIN: Could you tell the Commissioners what the circumstances were and what you were doing?
GREG: The two that spring to mind immediately was a gentleman I believe he came down from Brisbane (inaudible) and Sophie and he went to the movies, and they sat in the middle and I sat at the back, making sure that well, watching the movie, ostensibly, but letting them have the privacy of their space, sufficiently far away. They were some 10, 15 metres away from me.
Then the same gentleman came down subsequently to that and they went to the local pub and had a meal. I made it pretty clear I'm her father and I will be in the pub and I will be over there and I will be not I was just out of line of sight, in terms of the cubicles of the pub, and I said, "I will stay here until the end and you can have a meal and a chat and when you're finished chatting and having a meal, I will take Sophie home".
The gentleman let Sophie know after the two dates that perhaps it wasn't the relationship he was looking for. He was a gentleman in his 40s and he was looking for some other form of relationship.
MR GRIFFIN: I'm not going to deal with the sexual assault, except by way of asking you when you found out that the man had come around at about 11 o'clock at night sorry, 9 o'clock at night and was apparently surprised to find that Sophie was living in a disability group home, what was your reaction to the fact that the staff didn't intervene?
MICHELLE: I was pretty angry, to be honest.
MR GRIFFIN: Why was that?
MICHELLE: Because clearly the fact that he was shocked and said, "This is not what I was expecting", and then being allowed to leave, and the staff had alarm bells, it wouldn't have taken a lot to have pulled her aside and said, "Sophie, this doesn't look right to me, this doesn't seem safe, it's pretty late at night, 9 o'clock, to be going out to dinner". You know, it wouldn't have taken a lot to have for her to have sat her down and just had a chat, even invited him in and sat him down. Sat them on the lounge and just facilitated, you know, "This is not really what you were expecting".
I think I was also angry because the first time it happened, they just allowed her to go off with a gentleman who turned up. We found out that she wasn't coming for dinner. We raced down to find out what was happening and we were told she'd just gone off with someone in a yellow car. Greg was searching around looking for a yellow car. We said, "Why didn't you phone us? We're five minutes away, we could have come down and met him".
So for it to happen a second time where they allowed her to go, but this time not 11 o'clock in the morning, this was 9 o'clock at night, was yes, I can honestly say
I was not happy. I mean, their meal was the KFC drivethru, that's where they went, and then he took her to a sporting field where he sexually assaulted her. The only one decent thing he did was drop her back home afterwards.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I ask you both about the level of support that Sophie received after the assault?
MICHELLE: All the support she got was through the DPP and that was that she had sexual assault counselling. She also started to see a counsellor for a little while. She was put on antidepressants. The staff never talked to us about it, never talked to her about it. I don't believe she got any support in that, any physical, psychological or emotional support from them at all.
I know they were probably very worried about the fallout for the organisation about what had happened. A meeting was held with me and a manager and the house manager a little while afterwards, where I was told that Sophie had put the other residents at risk, that the staff were too frightened to do night shift because they didn't know if anybody would turn up. And as a result, they'd had to pay for security cameras around the house. That was their only conversation they had about the sexual assault.
GREG: It's my feeling that the frontline staff I'll be honest, the chatting, that disappeared and it seems to indicate to me that they somebody had told somebody, that maybe the cone of silence had come down. I don't know. That's something that maybe can be gleaned from their internal documents, but it seemed like they were cold and not no, she didn't receive any support, to my knowledge. And the accusative tone of: your daughter was sexually assaulted and we had to pay to put cameras in. That's not a tone that I would really
MICHELLE: They didn't ask after her. They didn't say, "How is she?", or, "How are you as her parents having gone through this?" It was, "She's put the other residents at risk. The staff don't want to work at night. We've had to pay for security cameras".
MR GRIFFIN: What level of NDIS funding was available to Sophie following the assault at the particular time?
MICHELLE: I know that her coordinator applied for some extra funding and it was knocked back.
MR GRIFFIN: Do you know what the application asked for and why it was knocked back?
MICHELLE: I believe it was for extra funding, just so that she got more support during the day, because she'd been suspended from REDinc for a while and it was to support her having more one on one through the day, either at home or out in the community, and I believe it was knocked back. They wanted evidence, they wanted
some evidence that she'd been assaulted.
MR GRIFFIN: Subsequently, was a second NDIS plan approved on 10 August 2018, which gave a slight increase in some core support funds?
MICHELLE: I think so.
GREG: I believe that's the case, yes.
CHAIR: Can we just go back slightly in the period before the assault took place. You and Sophie have explained that she didn't appear to have very much to do during the day. What was your understanding, say, in 2016? The code came in in January 2017, to give you the timeline. What would a typical day for Sophie involve?
MICHELLE: Before the NDIS, you mean?
CHAIR: Yes, I do.
MICHELLE: She had a program four days a week, so she was out four days a week doing something in a group activity.
CHAIR: Then she got suspended.
MICHELLE: Then she was suspended and that was it. She was at home. It was after the assault we found out that actually there wasn't staff there at the house through the day, so she was actually on her own through the day.
CHAIR: During the period of suspension, was that before or after the assault?
MICHELLE: The suspension was after the I think her suspension from REDinc was after, because her behaviour was deteriorating after the assault.
CHAIR: During that period when she was suspended, a typical day would involve her being at the home by herself?
MICHELLE: Mmm, unbeknownst to us.
GREG: A number of days a week.
MICHELLE: Or she would catch a taxi to the local shopping centre. She's been mugged a number of times out in the community on her own.
CHAIR: When she went to the shopping centre, she would, what, wander by herself?
MICHELLE: Yes, wander around.
GREG: It's actually the CBD in Lismore, which is a large rectangle, so she'd walk all the way around.
MICHELLE: She'd walk around, saying hello to all the shopkeepers, because everybody would know her, or she'd go up to the shopping mall and would just go and buy herself something to eat and just go around looking at books and whatever, and then catch a taxi home. She tried to be as independent as she possibly could.
This is an example of Sophie's independence, if we were to say before she learnt how to get money out of the teller machine, we would say, "Okay, we'll help you do it", and she'd say, "No, no, I don't need your help". Okay. So we'd walk away and then she'd ask a complete stranger who walked past to help her, because she wanted to be seen as independent.
But she would just wander around and that's all she did, and then get a taxi back.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Could I ask a follow up question? What are your observations about the staff in the two group homes? Do you feel they were not doing enough to support Sophie to develop, you know, capacity building, develop her own skills, work, independent living?
GREG: Not at all.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Any observations?
MICHELLE: No, they weren't. Their focus, because of their high needs, was on Natalie and Tyler. Because of their high needs, very little attention was actually given to Sophie. When Sophie eventually was evicted and Life Without Barriers had to put her up in a place on her own until we could find accommodation for her. They had the staff they asked for volunteers from her staff who would be prepared to work with her and one of them said to me, "I am so happy to be doing this because at last I feel I can actually do something with her".
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Thank you.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you make a complaint to the NSW Ombudsman about the quality of care LWB was providing to Sophie?
MR GRIFFIN: Commissioners, I believe at bundle A, tab 11, there is a document relevant to that. I wonder whether it's possible to bring that document up. Just take a moment to familiarise yourself with that document. It should be a five page letter.
MICHELLE: I remember it.
MR GRIFFIN: In that letter to the Ombudsman, dated 18 September 2017, did you attempt to set out in some detail the concerns you had?
MR GRIFFIN: As a result of sending that letter, did anyone get in touch with you?
MICHELLE: Yes, somebody from the Ombudsman got in touch with me. I don't recall their name.
MR GRIFFIN: Does the name [REDACTED] ring any bells?
MICHELLE: I can't remember.
MR GRIFFIN: What was the general gist of any conversation you had with somebody from the Ombudsman's office?
MICHELLE: That I should first go through the channels of Life Without Barriers first, and then see if we could have a meeting or resolve some of our concerns that way and if not, then go back to them.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you in fact do that, go to Life Without Barriers?
MR GRIFFIN: Who did you speak to at Life Without Barriers?
MICHELLE: Their house manager and there was somebody at the Alstonville office, but I don't recall the name.
MR GRIFFIN: When you spoke to them, did you have a copy of this letter with you?
MR GRIFFIN: Briefly, what was the content of that discussion you had with Life Without Barriers?
MICHELLE: Just, again, raising our concerns about the level of care. There was nothing new in the level of in the concerns that we had. We'd been raising them ever since we can remember.
MR GRIFFIN: When you spoke to the manager in Alstonville, did you get any promise or undertaking from the manager to respond to your concerns?
MICHELLE: I can recall them saying one of the managers saying that something would be done about personal care in the morning, and I think she actually started to
turn up and help assist in the mornings with personal care.
MR GRIFFIN: Anything else in response to the concerns?
MICHELLE: No, not that I can recall.
CHAIR: In the letter, you say in the second paragraph that you had spoken to Life Without Barriers before about your concerns and things were not changed. Did you explain to the Ombudsmans' office, when the Ombudsman said to go and talk to Life Without Barriers, that you already had spoken to them?
MICHELLE: No, not that I can recall.
MR GRIFFIN: I'm not going to go through this in detail with you, Michelle and Greg, but can you summarise what the result of making the complaint of the Ombudsman was, from your perspective?
MICHELLE: Nothing, really. Nothing changed, absolutely nothing changed.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, did you notice any change?
GREG: Is this the time when we we did have a discussion with a person who may have been the duty manager and we were talking about personal care issues. Is this the time when we were lobbying for Sophie to have two baths a week?
MICHELLE: We discussed that at one of the regular meetings.
GREG: And that was one of these? There was some certain pushback from this temporary manager at the house, that such a thing would be difficult to implement because Sophie having a bath would require a certain level of support and supervision, in order to get in and out of the bath, as opposed to the shower?
MICHELLE: We felt that Sophie needed to have a bath regularly. They raised the fact that she was epileptic and they didn't have the staff who could support her to have a bath if she was epileptic, because they have to have somebody there all the time, and that's the reason they said she couldn't have a bath. After a lot of negotiation and complaining, eventually they agreed that she could have one or two a week, but I don't think they ever happened.
GREG: They agreed to two and then didn't implement it, because I know, I talked to Sophie about it.
MR GRIFFIN: At that time, did Sophie need assistance to have a shower?
MICHELLE: She needs assistance with getting all her clothes off. She can go under a shower herself, but she can only wash the right side of her body, so she can't wash under her left arm. She certainly needs assistance with drying herself. So often she
will drip dry because she can't dry herself properly. She needs some support getting into certain clothes. If it's a pair of baggy pajamas, she'd probably be able to manage that herself, but anything that was a bit tighter well, she can't have anything with buttons on, it has to be elasticised so she can pull them up. But once again, they have to look after the left hand side of her body.
MR GRIFFIN: Michelle, I appreciate that getting in and out of a bath might be more difficult than walking in and out of the shower, but can I ask the obvious question: if a worker was available to assist her showering and dressing, why not available for bathing?
MICHELLE: But they weren't available for showering. She was doing it all herself.
GREG: When Sophie is getting a shower, one needs to keep an eye on the whole process or keep an ear out. But my understanding was that they would leave Sophie and say, "Okay, you can get on with it for five minutes or so", and then they'd wander off and do some other work and then come back. Which is okay. You can't stand in the shower with Sophie while she bathes herself, and there are handrails and the like, but still, one
MICHELLE: One has to be close by in case she slips on the floor. One of the reasons that Sophie told me her hair was so greasy all the time is because she had to have her shower of a night time because there wasn't time in the morning with the other clients and she wasn't prepared to go to bed with wet hair. She said, "If I wash my hair at night, if it gets washed on the night time, then I have to go to bed, then it means it's wet when I go to sleep", so very often wouldn't do her hair.
At the same time, somebody wasn't keeping an eye on that and encouraging her to wash her dirty hair or getting a hair dryer and drying it for her.
MR GRIFFIN: Do you remember an allegation that a worker dragged her by her feet and pinned her to the wall?
GREG: Yes, I do.
MR GRIFFIN: How did you find out about that?
MICHELLE: Is this the incident before she left?
MR GRIFFIN: Yes.
MICHELLE: Yes, yes.
GREG: Sophie told us.
MICHELLE: Yes, I can tell you the rundown of the day. She'd been to court that day. She'd gone with the court support person because the trial was coming up, to be
shown around the court where she was going to be sitting, who was going to be there. She got to meet the therapy dog at court. Then after that she went to the shops and went back home.
She went to the support worker and asked if she could talk to her and she told Sophie that, no, she was busy and suggested she go and have a sleep because she had karate that night. Sophie said that she'd said to the worker, "I'm not having a sleep, I don't want to sleep, I want to talk", and she said no.
Sophie then went down the corridor into the communal kitchen/dining area and saw a bag on the table which was an Aldi bag. They get their shopping from Woolworths, so she went to have a look. I believe this worker came down this is all going from what I was told from Sophie told her to mind her own business, it had nothing to do with her and "Move away from the bag".
I believe there was some altercation whereby Sophie stood in the doorway, in the corridor, with her arms folded and then I've been told that this worker said, "I've had enough of this", pushed her over and then with the wheelchair with Tyler in it, pushed straight past her, to which she hurt her leg. Sophie informs me she kept saying, "Can you just wait until I get up? Can you just wait until I get up?" Then this worker said, "You can have the house to yourself", and left in the van with Tyler and they left.
So Sophie was at the house. I then got a phone call at work from the manager at Life Without Barriers, saying that Sophie was not coping very well with the court stuff and that she may need some support, and is there any way that Greg could go and because I was at work. Any way Greg could go and pick her up and spend some time with her. Greg was sick in bed, he had the flu or something.
I said, "I will contact my daughter". So I contacted my daughter, who went straight around to the house, picked her up and took her out for a couple of hours. They went and had a coffee, they went and looked around a few shops. Apparently Sophie was fine, so my daughter dropped her back off at the house.
Then the next thing I'm told is that I receive a call from Greg to say that Sophie has assaulted the staff and it sounds like there's a lot going on down there. I left work and went around. When I got there, there was an ambulance there and there were the police officers there. The ambulance was there to look at one of the staff's noses, because Sophie had thumped her in the nose.
Sophie was sat down the other end of the house and I went down and sat next to her and I asked her what had happened. She said that she came back from going out. When she got there, there were two workers on, one from the morning and then another worker, and she said, "I still want to talk to you", and she was told again that this worker was too busy. The other worker said, "Can I talk to you?", to which Sophie said, "No, I want to talk to the other one", and went to the office and tried to talk to her, was told to go away again. So Sophie actually went to punch the or hit
or kick, I don't know, but hurt the lady who had been telling her to go away all day.
Then I am told by Sophie that the younger staff member got her and pinned her up against the wall, put her feet on Sophie's feet and held her hands down by her side. Sophie tells me that she spat at this young worker and when she released her hand to wipe her face, they both manhandled her, got her to the ground, dragged her by her feet into the laundry and shut the laundry door and she says they locked it. I'm told when the investigation was done that there wasn't a lock on the door, so one of them must have been holding it shut.
So when I got there, the police were there. I found that they had called the police. And that was the events of that day.
MR GRIFFIN: I understand that the incident occurred on 26 March 2019. It appears that a letter arrived six months later, advising you that the investigation had concluded but there was insufficient evidence of any wrongdoing by a worker.
MR GRIFFIN: Did you have any view about the conclusion reached by the investigation?
MICHELLE: Well, I just I mean, no.
GREG: It was certainly exactly what I expected.
MICHELLE: What we expected.
GREG: That there would be some form of words which said there's insufficient evidence for a case to answer.
MR GRIFFIN: Sophie eventually left the Lismore house. Did she do so of her own accord?
MICHELLE: No. She was told to leave. She was made to leave.
CHAIR: Just before we leave that, to be clear, that was an investigation by Life Without Barriers?
GREG: An internal investigation.
MICHELLE: They had an investigator who came to Lismore. I insisted that I sit with her, but was very much aware that I wasn't to interject or say anything, I was just there as a support person. She interviewed her and my understanding is that she interviewed Tyler and the staff members. They said there was insufficient evidence
to say that the staff had assaulted her, but she had assaulted the staff.
MR GRIFFIN: Commissioners, the letter reporting on the investigation is IND.0103.0001.0021, which can be found in the bundle at tab 37.
Can I move on to the NDIS funding as it currently stands. Am I correct in saying it has increased significantly from the earlier days?
MICHELLE: I don't know how much by, but she seems to be doing a lot more activities.
MR GRIFFIN: To your observation, Sophie seems to be doing much better now than she was in Lismore?
MR GRIFFIN: In your respective statements, at the end you have made some comments about what you've learnt from the experience of dealing with LWB and their care of Sophie. Can I take you to those one by one. Greg, you say communication between LWB employees needs to be improved?
MR GRIFFIN: In what way?
GREG: Well, I usually talk in terms of levels of communication in a hierarchical model. Those workers, the frontline workers, the communication between shifts and shift changes was either nonexistent or paltry. The keeping of a log book was not done in a sufficient way. Events and incidents were not always logged in this log book, which was written in pencil. So communication between frontline workers on shift change was very poor.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, is this a particular problem when you have a number of staff members who may be casual or agency staff workers?
GREG: It is my belief that that's the case. Also, of course, there is a high turnover of staff in the sector because it is not a very highly certainly for frontline workers, it's not very highly paid and certain elements of care of the disabled are not for everybody to undertake. Sometimes people find this out after a short while and say, "This is not for me". So there is a quick turnaround of staff right across the sector at that level.
I also believe that the communication mechanisms between the levels is very poor.
Although I can't give an example, I have vague memories of both Michelle and I giving information to frontline workers, having them give it to the managerial staff and it not being passed on to other frontline workers as it should be. Sometimes the communication between the middle rank management staff and the higher levels seems not to have taken place as well.
So there's a communication failure both horizontally and vertically in that organisation. There are perfectly adequate models in the business community out there for doing better than that.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg, did you also have a view about whether the Lismore houses were suitable for Sophie and her needs?
GREG: Do you mean physically?
MR GRIFFIN: Physically, firstly, and, secondly, in terms of the staff and the support? I should add into that whether or not the other residents were compatible?
GREG: My view is that the Lismore house, the physical nature of that house, is perfectly adequate. Michelle might have a different view on that, but that can easily be ascertained by viewing and measuring the house. It's a physical thing and it can be viewed as such.
In terms of staff provision, in terms of the numbers, it's my belief that staff numbers, frontline staff numbers, were insufficient. It's my belief that those staff were insufficiently trained. I'm not sure whether there was an ongoing training program there or not, but it's my understanding that there was not.
I find that to be detrimental to Sophie's care. There is an issue around compatability of clients, in the sense that the broad range of disability types and disability severity in the house would tend to indicate that a different mode of care is required for each of the clients, a different mode and a different intensity of care.
The clients themselves were not compatible, in my opinion.
MR GRIFFIN: Michelle, can I come to you. I think one of the things you say is that we all should be aiming to minimise the possibility of any abuse or neglect and, in particular, you have made reference to more training around behavioural management plans. Can you explain to the Commissioners what you mean by that?
MICHELLE: Well, there isn't any point in having a behaviour plan made up if the staff aren't going to follow it. So to me, that means they have not been trained in it or they are not having regular updated training in the behaviour management plan. For them to have a clinical person work intensively from Life Without Barriers to draw up a clinical to draw up a behaviour plan, there is no point having it if no one's going to adhere to it. So I think there should be more training of the staff.
The staff that were in that house would tell you they don't have time for that, they don't have time for that, because all their time is taken up with the two high needs adults in the house. Well, that's a cop out. Not on the staff's part, but that's not good enough. They were providing care for four adults with disabilities and they should all have had their needs met.
MR GRIFFIN: In your professional life dealing with children, you would be aware of the need for staff to be trained in relation to children. Do you take the same view in relation to staff dealing with people with disability?
MICHELLE: Yes, absolutely.
MR GRIFFIN: Do you have any knowledge about what level of qualification you think would be appropriate or is that something you are not familiar with?
MICHELLE: They should be at least a Certificate III or IV as a minimum, as an entry level, and then after that it should be an ongoing training within the organisation.
GREG: I think that's an important point, that whatever the particular certification is to gain entry into the sector
MICHELLE: It should be appropriate.
GREG: it should be appropriate, but times change and situations change and an ongoing training regime should be put in place.
MICHELLE: I'm aware that there a few of the staff members there who have worked in aged care facilities in the past, so whatever qualifications they had or whatever past experience in aged care, which is wonderful if you're going to work in aged care, but if you're going to work with people with disabilities who no two people are the same, where they have all got their own individual needs, and very often they have got challenging behaviours, they need specific training around disability. I don't believe that's the case with the staff at that house.
GREG: I think it might be a case that the community in general has this tacit notion that because you can adequately service elderly people, then you can also adequately service the disabled. Because, say, for example, they have mobility issues, so therefore they are the same, which of course they are not. That's society's problem, I think to
MR GRIFFIN: Is the point you're making in a nutshell that skills are not transferrable necessarily from one sector to the other?
MR GRIFFIN: Finally, can I ask you both about the question of better communication between disability workers and families, based on your experience.
MICHELLE: Yes. We always found things out after the fact. There was never enough communication with us as a parent and I think that there needs to be far more of that happening. We always found out things well, most of the time we weren't told. You all watched the I know it wasn't live streamed, but you watched a DVD of the house of the performance that the house put on. We weren't told any of that. We didn't know they were doing a performance. We weren't told where it was going to be. We knew nothing of that until we got the DVD afterwards from Sophie. So it's just that lack of, I don't know I mean, when Natalie was assaulted, to this day Life Without Barriers has never told us. We found out after the court case because Greg bumped into Natalie's mum in the street who told us that they'd just been to court a little while ago, because Natalie had been assaulted in the house. No one has ever spoken to us about that at all. I think as parents we have a right to know about that so that we could have at least asked our own daughter if she was okay. But there's this cone of silence they bring down and I just don't think that that's they have got a duty of care.
GREG: In terms of communication, too, with conversations with a number of the managers at the homes, I got the impression, although I can perhaps not provide evidence for this, that oftentimes the house manager there was an issue and the house manager was left on their own to deal with it, "you're the manager, you deal with it, you get on with it". That's talking about the communication between the levels again. The managers communication with families should perhaps best come from the manager, I suspect. They were very busy all of the time. So I think they got left, often.
MR GRIFFIN: Greg and Michelle, they are the questions I have of you. I now invite the Chair or the Commissioners to ask any questions that arise.
QUESTIONS BY THE COMMISSION
CHAIR: Is it okay if I ask a few questions? I will start with Commissioner McEwin; do you have any questions of either Greg or Michelle?
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: No, thank you.
CHAIR: I will now ask Commissioner Galbally in Melbourne, whether she has any questions. Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions of Greg or Michelle?
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes, thank you for your evidence. I'd like to ask you about the place Sophie's in now. Sophie indicated that she was very happy with that place in [REDACTED]. Just to compare the two, is Sophie having as many
MICHELLE: No. We haven't had one, to our knowledge, in all the time she's been in this house in [REDACTED], nor have we had one to our knowledge since she's been at her day program, [REDACTED], since she moved there a couple of years ago.
MR GRIFFIN: Can I ask you not to mention the location.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: It sounds like it's as much about the house and the two do you think it's to do with having only two compared with four?
GREG: I think there's a compatibility issue. As far as I can tell, the lady with whom Sophie shares now is ambulatory and she is vocal and whilst Sophie gave the impression that they were great pals, I think they are not such great pals as she might have indicated, but they are compatible in the sense that they both can walk and talk and discuss things at a particular level. They are much closer than Sophie has had before. Could the house stand another this is a house that can take three clients.
MICHELLE: And they have said they were looking at possibly another person moving in. That's been discussed with us. We were actually told that that was at the request of Sophie and the other lady that's in the house. So they are looking at compatibility to find the right person that would fit in that house. She appears a lot calmer, a lot happier and we don't have the phone calls, the distressing phone calls every day that we used to have. We just get really nice pleasant phone calls now, not the "I'm unhappy, they are not listening to me, do something, mum".
GREG: They do seem very much more focused on the client in this new house. Sophie is, as I said before, is going back to activities that she did in her teens, the horse riding and swimming and the like, and they are organising that. They've organised orthotic shoes for her and they have identified that she's been diagnosed with sleep apnoea, and now has a sleep apnoea mask, which was not diagnosed before. All of these things are coming about because of focus on Sophie. They do seem to be wonderfully well focused upon her. The organisation around her seems to have made Sophie's life very much better. She's very, very happy there.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you, thank you very much.
CHAIR: Sophie explained that she loves reading.
MICHELLE: She does.
CHAIR: The thought occurred to me that with Sophie's love of reading, which appears to be very long standing, that even when she had been suspended from her day care, was it not readily available that something could be done for Sophie to use
her reading skills in order to improve her skills in other areas? I'm not entirely clear how much she read, but she does obviously read a lot.
MICHELLE: She reads a lot. She likes to buy books and she likes to read books and her room is full of books.
GREG: Several thousand, I would say.
GREG: 2,000 at least.
MICHELLE: Not just her room, in boxes at our house.
GREG: I'd say we have got rid of something in the order of 500, 600 books.
MICHELLE: She had a garage sale at one point, the local car boot market where she was able to sell off some of her books. She does love her books.
GREG: There's a great deal of joy in buying a book, for her.
CHAIR: I am just wondering whether there could have been some, for example, structured program of learning based upon her love of reading
GREG: When Sophie talked about reading as well, it is often the case that she doesn't fully read the whole book.
CHAIR: I understand.
GREG: When Sophie reads, her cognition of what she's reading is perhaps not as high as her reading ability. So she can read a great deal and then have some real questions around what it is that she's read, hence if you spend any time with Sophie, you'll notice like, this morning in waiting to come up here, we had a deep and meaningful conversation about stocks and shares and relative the relative price of currency around the world, which severely taxed my knowledge of economics.
So she does do this sort of thing. We don't know just how much she picks up when reading.
MICHELLE: All that time that she was spending on her own, she would have been reading as well as going on with that.
CHAIR: Yes, she said that.
Well, thank you.
GREG: Thank you.
CHAIR: I just want to ask the representative of Life Without Barriers as to whether there is any application to ask you any questions. Can I ask the representative of Life Without Barriers, who is Ms Mitchelmore.
MS MITCHELMORE: Commissioner, I have no application to make, thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Mitchelmore. In that case, that concludes your evidence.
MICHELLE: Thank you very much.
CHAIR: We, on behalf of the Commissioners, want to thank you both for coming. I know it's not an easy thing to do. You have travelled here in order to do that. We very much appreciate the very detailed statements you have made and the evidence you have given today, which in many respects is very personal and we understand just how hard that is. So we are very appreciative, and you have been a great help to the Royal Commission. So thank you very much.
MICHELLE: Thank you.
GREG: Thank you very much.
THE WITNESSES WITHDREW
MR GRIFFIN: There is one remaining matter of the tender of documents. For those listening in, you will recall in my opening I said as a general rule we weren't proposing to tender documents during the hearing, but to do so after.
The exception to that relates, first, to Sophie's statement, which you will find in hearing bundle A at tab 1. It is stamped STAT.0475.0001.0001. I seek to tender that document into evidence and ask that it be marked exhibit 20 1.
CHAIR: Yes, that will be done. The statement of Sophie will become exhibit 20 1.
EXHIBIT #20 1 STATEMENT OF SOPHIE, STAT.0475.0001.0001
MR GRIFFIN: Second is the document we will describe as the first version of the "relationship rules" for the Lismore house. It is formally titled the "Interim safety plan for [Sophie] regarding male visitors to the house". It is stamped LWB.1010.0002.0076. That document can be found at tab 366 of hearing bundle C. I seek to tender that document into evidence and ask it be marked exhibit 20 1.1.
CHAIR: The interim safety plan will be admitted into evidence and be given the marking 20‑1.1.
EXHIBIT #20‑1.1 ‑ interim safety plan for [Sophie] regarding male visitors to the house, lwb.1010.0003.0076
MR GRIFFIN: Chair, that is the evidence to be heard today. First thing tomorrow morning, you will hear from the two experts.
CHAIR: Later in the day?
MR GRIFFIN: I don't have the schedule in front of me, but it is a full day. I will advise you when we go off air.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, I look forward to that. We will adjourn and start at 10am tomorrow. Thank you very much.
Hearing adjourned at 4.08pm until Wednesday, 8 December 2021 at 10am