Report - Public hearing 3 - The experience of living in a group home for people with disability
Public Hearing Report
Public hearing 3: The experience of living in a group home for people with disability
The Disability Royal Commission investigated experiences of living in a group home for people with disability in one of its early hearings – because a person’s home is the place where they should feel and be safe and secure.
The Royal Commission report says the closure of large institutions housing people with disability, with the resulting development of group homes, has not eliminated institutional forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disability, particularly those with serious intellectual disabilities.
The Royal Commission also wanted to examine whether living in a group home creates a greater risk for people with disability to be subjected to violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation.
In December 2019, the Royal Commission heard evidence from advocacy groups, government agencies, large service providers and other experts and academics.
The Royal Commission heard from people with disability in group homes who lived with a lack of choice and control, and felt unsafe.
Some residents experienced sexual assault, beatings and verbal abuse, among other forms of mistreatment. Some group homes had insufficient staff, with a lack of training to deal with high numbers of residents which ‘resulted in abuse between residents, and neglect, and a diminished quality of life’ for them.
One witness said she had lived in a hostel with about 16 other residents where she was sexually abused. She said that she moved to the Community Residential Unit where she was provided training on how to live there. This training included ‘intense cleaning’ like slave labour, and she was not given a choice to move there. These decisions were made by staff without consulting her.
Another witness, Dr Peter Gibilisco is an honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne who completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology in 2006. Dr Gibilisco, who has a disability and has used a wheelchair since he was 23, said from his own experience, individual needs were not being met. People living in a group home were following the same routine, which is neglecting individual needs.
The report said evidence from the hearing showed that reforms and innovations designed to overcome systemic abuse, such as that occurring in large institutions, has not been successful.
While group homes had improved the ‘degrading conditions’ experienced by people living with disability in large institutions, it was clear that the advent of group homes has not eliminated institutional forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disability, particularly those with serious intellectual disabilities.
The report states that people with disability have the right to autonomy – that is, the right to control their own lives, to make their own decisions and to exercise choice.
Evidence at the hearing indicates that although the experiences of people with disability in group homes is not uniform, far too many people are denied autonomy in the choice of accommodation allocated to them, their carers and their co-residents. In some cases, this has allowed the perpetrators of violence or abuse to continue in the same accommodation as the victims, with reporting mechanisms and oversight of disability support service providers often being overly complex.
Routines were organised for the convenience of staff and management. This meant that the choice and needs of residents were ignored, leading to a diminished quality of life and, too often, to neglect and abuse.
One witness, Kevin Stone, said many people with disability living in group homes were not aware there were people around to look out for them. People were often living in fear, believing if they speak up, they will be hurt, either physically, psychologically, or in opportunities denied to them. He said the only strategy he had ever seen that was capable of making a difference was advocacy, particularly self-advocacy, because it empowered people to stick up for themselves.
For the full report, or more information, take a look at our website, under the public hearing section