Monday, October 23, 2017
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Advocacy for Inclusion Blog

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AUG
28

Updates to OPCAT in the ACT

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There have been several announcements this week around the ratification and changes in the ACT regarding the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture). Let’s unpack them:

  1. The ACT Government has introduced the Monitoring of Places of Detention (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture) Bill 2017 into the ACT Legislative Assembly last week. Whilst we welcome the introduction of the bills, we are reluctant to hand out kudos just yet.

The definition of ‘places of detention’ within our new bill is fairly broad:

“place of detention, means any place that the subcommittee must be allowed to visit under the Optional Protocol, article 4, that is subject to the jurisdiction and control of the Territory. Note Under the Optional Protocol, art 4, the Territory must allow visits to any place under its jurisdiction and control and in which people are or may be involuntarily deprived of their liberty”.

The bill introduced this week covers actions to enable the UN Sub-committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to visit places of detention. Fabulous – however the downside to this is that a group of UN ‘experts’ will only visit once or twice in a period of two to five years or more. This is a huge issue if the ACT wants to be serious about the role of monitoring places of detention.

Recognising that it is still early days for OPCAT, it is still a disappointment to see the lack coverage in the bill on neither the domestic monitoring responsibilities overall of inspectors nor the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) that is to be coordinated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman to ensure that places of detention are routinely inspected.

It is absolutely vital that the ACT Government and the shared responsibility of the NPM to ensure that places of detention are routinely inspected on a regular basis. In line with our submission, we also expect that places of detention (including institutional living spaces) to be randomly ‘dropped in on’ with limited to zero warning to ensure practices are upheld to the highest standard and individual human rights are maintained at all times.

  1. Featured a Canberra Times article this week, it is evident that people with disabilities may have missed out, particularly the areas of institutional living.

The Federal Government will ratify the protocols of OPCAT by the end of the year and the rest of Australia, including the ACT, will be required to ensure detention facilities will meet the new standards after ratification. We question how much will change and how fast with the introduction of our new bill.

We welcome the focus on prisons as detention centres as well as aged care and mental health, but again, disability may have been missed out or has been shoved to the bottom of the pile when it comes to people with disability living in institutional living without choice or control. It is urged that the Government place the issue of restrictive practices to the top of the pile and push towards the elimination of restrictive practices in all places of detention in the ACT.

At present, the ACT largely continues to lose points on accountability measures. Because restrictive practices have serious consequences and are a form of violence, these practices must be accounted for and strictly monitored, yet they are not. This is what OPCAT is designed to prevent. Not only detention centres but also support services that work with people with disabilities in congregated and institutional living must be drastically improved so that people with disabilities are better supported to communicate and have their needs met in order to prevent the use of restrictive practices in the first place.

  1. The ACT Government is preparing to create an Inspector of Prisons within the ACT Ombudsman office in response to the recommendations of the Moss Review last year. Fantastic, only we will be watching to find out what exactly this means in terms of mechanisms of oversight and its role. What will the Inspector actually do?

We welcome the enthusiasm to create an Inspector of Prisons as this is needed. We continuously maintain that people with disabilities are overrepresented in the ACT criminal justice system, draining our economic resources when self-advocacy is the key to change as many of people that move through Advocacy for Inclusion’s space does not need to be in the prison system at all. Should the new and upcoming Inspector have the power to implement change in our prison system, they will be monitoring a rather small cohort of a prisoner population as it will decline when people with disabilities are focused upon and removed from the criminal justice system with reasonable support.

Wishful thinking it may be from a policy perspective but the argument is maintained: address the high levels of marginalisation of people with disabilities in ACT (within the housing, education, employment, exclusion, discrimination, human rights, etc.) and we will be on a path of restorative recovery. 

Check out our submission to the OPCAT here in Word or PDF format: Response to AHRC on OPCAT in Australia Consultation Paper, July 2017

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

 

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AUG
21

Contributing to Self-Advocacy in Australia

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The Self-Advocacy Unit (SARU) was asked by the NDIA to develop and review a preferred model national model. The target group for the project has been people with intellectual disabilities, people with acquired brain injury and people with complex communication support requirements. The SARU has been travelling around Australia holding forums to gather ideas from self-advocates from all over the country.

On Monday 7 August 2017, the team from SARU held their final Self Advocacy ACT forum in the Griffin Centre. It was a great chance for local self-advocates to get together and talk about their ideas about self-advocacy move forward. Some of the topics discussed were: 

What needs to happen in the ACT to set a local Self-Advocacy Resource Unit?

Who can and who can’t apply to get funding for this model? (Our ACT advocates voted a unanimous NO to service providers running this. They would like to an advocacy organisation to oversee the running of it and believe self-advocates should staff it.)

What jobs should be in the National Office? What should happen next?

Our self-advocates were very vocal about how they thought the project should move forward. They stated they would like to continue to have a say in how their groups are run. Another strong point was the need to have the resource units in every state and territory staffed by self-advocates.

As a roundup of the project, a two-day National Self-Advocacy Forum will be held in Melbourne in October  2017. Two local self-advocates will be representing the group in Melbourne. In the meantime, our self-advocates will continue to work towards an inclusive community here in Canberra. 

Learn more about our Self-Advocacy Group

 

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AUG
16

Inclusion through the eyes of children

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As part of our Inclusion and Awareness trainingAdvocacy for Inclusion was recently invited to talk at a local primary school on the topic of Human Rights and Disability Rights.

In front of me was 60 year 4 students between the ages of 9 and 10. A potentially rather daunting experience, however, the welcome I received was genuinely warm and inviting. The students were all very engaged and eager to learn. A perfect audience. To my surprise, the students already had an incredible understanding of human rights and were able to share examples of how we use them in our everyday lives. 

Several things stood out to me in the short time I was there. Two specific things: Firstly - It didn't take long after talking about the correct use of language in regards to disability, to see them put it to use consistently.

And secondly - the biggest and most telling moment of all was a question I was asked towards the end of my visit. 

“Do the police arrest people just because they have a disability?”

Now I would have liked to have said no. In fact, that would seem the logical and only acceptable answer but I couldn't. In our experience at Advocacy for Inclusion, this IS something that we come across on a regular basis. 

It hit me hard. How is it that a 9-year-old child was able to connect these dots, yet despite many years of many Disability Advocacy Organisations trying to bring this issue to the attention of government, it has been minimally acknowledged.

A 9-year-old could see the inequality and point out the breach of human rights and disability rights.

We discussed this a bit further. I shared the statistics with the children  - 60% of people in custody identify as having a disability and the reverse side - that people with a disability were 40% more likely to be a victim of abuse and assault. 

As this info was processed another question  - "are there special police to help". 

Again a 9-year-old seeing the issue and practicality then coming up with a logical solution. 

Frustratingly here in the ACT, despite people with disability being the largest of minority groups - there is no official police Disability Liaison Officer. 

However, it isn't all doom and gloom. Advocacy for Inclusion has been funded to develop and deliver a Specialist Justice Orientation Program and resources to support people with disabilities to better understand and participate in the justice process they are involved in. This program is being funded through Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) funding from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

Last year Advocacy for Inclusion developed wallet cards for people with disability in consultation with the Australian Federal Police - more information about the wallet cards can be found here AFP-wallet-card

Hopefully in the near future, if I am asked again I can tell this very insightful group of students, that no, people with disability are treated fairly and have equal access and involvement in the justice system and not ever a target for police just because they have a disability. Because as we all know that that would be a breach of human rights and disability rights.

 

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JUL
19

Advocacy for Inclusion responds to OPCAT ratification

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The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is due to be ratified by the Federal Government in December 2017.

As part of the Australian Government’s commitment to working closely with states and territories, Advocacy for Inclusion has been part of the consultation process in the ACT and has participated in a roundtable discussion, followed by a teleconference. We have now responded in turn to the Australian Human Rights Commission request for responses to the OPCAT consultation paper.  

What is OPCAT?

 

OPCAT is an international human rights treaty that aims to prevent ill-treatment in places of detention through the creation of a preventive-based inspection mechanism. Australia has signed OPAT in May 2009 and is yet to be legislated. In Australia’s case, and the ACT as a Territory, the OPCAT ratification will ensure places of detention where people are deprived of their liberty and basic human rights are detained and prevented from speaking out.

The ratification of OPCAT is to introduce a greater level of transparency and accountability for the treatment of people who are kept in detention facilities and also confined without choice or control in their circumstances. The Australian Government has committed to putting in place the following:

  1. The National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) – this area will be coordinated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, in partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission to ensure places of detention are inspected.

It is yet to be decided by the Australian Government if the model of the NPM will be a sole national body or only the Commonwealth Ombudsman through states and territories. How the final product is going to look and operate will be decided in due course of time.

  1. The UN Sub-committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) – the UN body of independent ‘experts’ responsible for conducting visits to places of detention in the states and territories and provide guidelines for the NPMs to assist in the performance of their duties.

In short, Advocacy for Inclusion supports the ratification of the OPCAT by Australia and welcomes the focus of the present consultation by the Australian Human Rights Commission. In particular, the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) is seen as a useful oversight mechanism to protect the human rights of people with disabilities in indefinite detention, through its mandate to inspect places of detention and make recommendations to relevant authorities against restrictive practices.

Our Submission

 

In our submission, we are argued for the need for transparency and accountability in the monitoring of restrictive practices used against people with disabilities, particularly in institutional settings. It is part of our daily work, and we see the issue consistently. Our organisation’s experience tells us that restrictive practices are widely hidden from the broader community. The current system lacks accountability measures. Because restrictive practices have serious consequences and are a form of violence, these practices must be accounted for and strictly monitored, yet they are not. Support systems and services must be drastically improved so that people with disabilities are better supported to communicate and have their needs met in order to prevent the use of restrictive practices in the first place.

We consistently argue that restrictive practices are fundamentally violations of human rights. Such practices cause physical and psychological pain and distress, deprivation of liberty, and remove a person from their property. These practices can have significant hostile impacts on the person’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. It also denies a person basic respect for their inherent dignity as human beings. Restrictive practices must be eliminated in order to fulfil the human rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities.

Restrictive practices “are the deliberate or unconscious use of coercive power to restrain or limit an individual’s freedom of action or movement. There are five main forms of restrictive interventions: chemical, environmental, mechanical, and physical restraint, and seclusion.” Restrictive practices are fundamentally violations of human rights. They can cause physical and psychological discomfort or pain, deprivation of liberty, alter thought processes and deprive a person of their property. These practices can have significant adverse impacts on the person’s mental and physical health and wellbeing and this is evident in our daily work and expertise of knowledge.

In spaces where people with disabilities have little control and choice, and where power is exercised over them to extreme degrees including through physical force, people with disabilities can become violent toward each other or toward support workers as a form of protest. This issue is often referred to as “challenging behaviours”, and dealt with via restrictive practices, such as the use of psychotropic medications. It is often wrongly perceived that people with disabilities are safer in institutional settings where they are “cared for” and “with their own kind”. In our experience, lateral violence is very common in institutional settings but is very poorly recognised as a serious issue with major impacts on people with disabilities.

We strongly recommended that the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), enacted through Australia’s ratification of the OPCAT, ensures oversight and accountability for restraint and seclusion of people with disability, with a strong focus on prevention. Advocacy for Inclusion has previously recommended that a national oversight body for the use of restraint and seclusion be established. Further, this body should adopt a social justice lens to ensure that restraint and seclusion are accurately recognised as abuse and a violation of human rights in group homes, congregate living arrangements and other institutional settings where people with disabilities are confined without choice and control.  

Check out our submission here in Word or PDF format: http://bit.ly/2vgAaN8

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

 

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JUL
10

The right to live independently (article 19)

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Recent submission to the call for comments on the draft General Comment on the right of persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community (Article 19)

 

Advocacy for Inclusion advocates for people with disabilities to have control over their own lives, as reflected in Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This week, we have responded to the call to reflect on the draft General Comment on Article 19.

In 2014, the CRPD Committee decided to prepare a draft General Comment on Article 19 of the Convention. The Committee considered that it was important to clarify the content of this article given that in its consideration of States parties’ reports, the Committee had identified gaps in putting into practice in areas globally and, to a certain extent, misconceptions about the right of persons with disabilities to choose their place of residence and where and with whom to live; the right of persons with disabilities to in-home, residential and community support services; and the right to community services and facilities available on an equal basis with the general population and which are responsive to the requirements of persons with disabilities.

Advocacy for Inclusion consistently campaigns against institutionalisation in our submissions, particularly in areas of forced co-tenancy arrangements and group living. Advocacy for Inclusion has seen examples of forced co-tenancy where a person with disability must live in a group home with another person or several with disability in order to receive supports and where a person must ‘agree’ to another person moving into their home so support can be shared.

Those in the mainstream community appear genuinely confused, while building companies and government department scratch their heads thinking they have got it ‘right’ with their contemporary and ‘modern’ ideas of what it means to live independently as a person with a disability. They groan inside when we, as advocates, argue that squashing tenants together unwillingly to share supports and cut the costs, create little villas, health care facilities and spacious group homes, will effectively solve the issue.

Forced co-tenancy means Article 19 is not met as an individual human right as the quality of support is diminished and the tenant loses the right to make important lifestyle choices, including who they share their home with and to what capacity.

We argued in a previous blog post that the issue is not about ‘inclusion’ or ‘companionship’ but about the effectiveness of pooling and saving money; that is, cost cutting. When two or more people with disabilities are accommodated together and share their supports, they generally require a smaller funding package each as it can be pooled and the support workers shared. The pre-NDIS block funding model forced people into these arrangements, because the funding was attached to service providers rather than to individuals, and there was significantly less funding available in general for disability supports. The NDIS is meant to revolutionise this not pour funding into holding up the old broken system, which left people with disabilities excluded, marginalised and at risk of harm.

Advocacy for Inclusion is beginning to see a rise in accommodation and housing advocacy needs where this issue is now becoming frequent under the NDIS where co-tenancy is favoured and is often pressured. Why? Cost-cutting, of course! Australia’s obligation as a State Party to uphold the recommendations and purpose of Article 19 is argued to be flawed – are we meeting our obligations? We are trying, but we have a long way to go to ensure that people with disabilities live FULLY integrated into the community and are involved in the decisions made about their own living arrangements.

Check out our submission here in Word or PDF format: http://bit.ly/2uAdEgR

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

 

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JUL
06

AFI presents at Lifelines Domestic Violence Alert Trainers National forum.

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Several weeks ago one of our Training Officers, Sharon, attended a local focus group session about Lifelines Domestic Violence Alert training and the development of disability specific content.

Recognised for our expertise around the intersectionality between Woman with disability and Violence, Sharon was invited by Lifeline to present and be on an expert panel for discussion at their recent National Domestic Violence alert Trainers Forum.

The national DV Alert forum provides the Lifeline trainers with professional development. Over several days, discussions take place “focussing on collaboration, best-practice care, awareness campaigns, and referral pathways and building safer communities”. The  panel was asked to discuss Community Awareness and Prevention, and  Advocacy for Inclusion was there to specifically to talk about Disability, and a program developed by Advocacy for Inclusion called "Being Safe, Being Strong"

The Being Safe, Being Strong program has previously been recognised as a finalist in 2016 ACT Government  ‘Violence Prevention Award” in the community sector category.

The Being Safe, Being Strong program aims to build understanding among women with disabilities of their right to be safe from violence and their ability to identify the difference between safe and violent behaviours in relationships. The program also helps identify pathways to getting help and staying safe. It is the only program known of its type in Australia.

Sharon shares “As I spoke to the audience, I could see the messages and statistics I was sharing hitting home. I could see people writing down notes as I spoke - that people with disability are the largest minority group in the world yet other minorities are catered for and yet somehow services and resources are not automatically made accessible for people with disability. The gasps from the audience as I shared that women with disability are 40% more likely to be the victim of domestic violence, and I did notice the tears as I highlighted the very disturbing statistic that 90% of woman with a cognitive disability that has been sexually assaulted and that two-thirds of this woman had been assaulted before the age of 18”

In our individual advocacy work, we note a level of complacency towards violence by disability service providers when we raise issues of violence in their facilities with them. It seems to be systemically accepted. Disability support staff seem inured to it after years of having no alternative to offer, or perhaps having succumbed to a “culture of violence”. It seems that workers and managers in the disability service system are also not trained to recognise and respond appropriately to these incidents. This means that women with disabilities can be subjected to violence and abuse in their home for years.

Despite the heightened vulnerability and instances of violence experienced by women with disabilities, there is little in the way of legislative protections, programs and resources in response. For example, crisis accommodation appropriate to the needs of women with disabilities scarcely exists in Australia. Some women with disabilities have specific and significant support needs that would never be catered for in a women’s domestic violence shelter.

Given this background, Sharon made sure to highlight all the people that these trainers possibly had never thought of as being in a domestic violence situation that actually is – those in congregate living places and supported accommodation – those living in institutions.

Despite only having a short time to present it was clear the message was not lost. During the panel question time, there were questions about being more accessible, other attendees shared stories of their own training and acknowledging how they could be more accessible. We look forward to seeing in the future the new Disability module in the DV Alert Training.

To see further information about the forum

DV alert forum Sharon

 

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JUN
29

Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee Inquiry to address outcomes of National Disability Strategy 2010-2020

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This week we had completed a new submission to address the outcomes of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (NDS). In this submission, we emphasised our concern with the implementation of the NDS and the actions that have been implemented through Outcome 2 ‘Rights protection, justice and legislation’. in the areas of people with disabilities in the justice process, including prisons, child protection and guardianship. The National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (NDS) is the foundation of Australia’s work to advance disability rights and recognises the experiences and needs of people with disabilities and their families are central to the Strategy, its vision and its principles’.

The Strategy is the national policy framework for guiding Australian governments to meet their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and to implement the CRPD across a range of key outcome areas. Bluntly, very little has been done to implement Outcome 2, and few outcomes have been recorded as achievements either Australia-wide or in the ACT. There has been more focus on the National Disability Strategy outcome areas around employment, personal and community support, economic security and health and wellbeing, particularly with the implementation and rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The National Disability Strategy 2010-2010 is in year seven of a ten year strategy and three years remaining. The section of Outcome 2 ‘Rights protection, justice and legislation’ has seen no real action at either the ACT or national level.

The number of people with disabilities in the prison system Australia-wide, including the ACT, is significant and acknowledged, yet there is no consistent national data collected on people with disabilities in the criminal justice system.  Collecting national data will enable policy development in eliminating overrepresentation of people with disabilities entering and exiting the justice system.

Parents with cognitive disabilities continue to be over-represented in the child protection system and face significant barriers to reasonable participation in our justice system in child protection.  The number of parents with disabilities that face child removal by child protective services is very high, yet data about disability remains uncollected.

Despite the impact on self-determination and civil rights of guardianship orders, there is no presumption of legal representation for those facing the imposition of substitute decision making orders. The rights of people with disabilities who are subject to guardianship proceedings and have not been offered legal representation are not engaging in a fair and equitable justice process.

There are no current comprehensive policies in place to address Outcome 2 of the National Disability Strategy. While this continues the over representation of people with disabilities across all areas of the criminal and civil justice system will continue. Without systematic data collection, Australia will struggle to understand the scale and nature of what it is facing and continue to disadvantage and marginalise people with disabilities in the justice process.

It is highly critical that we get this right and there is little time left.

Check out our submission here in Word or PDF format: Access to Justice

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

 

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JUN
19

Defending Democracy – We Need to Continue the Fight

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Last week the Human Rights Law Centre released a report titled Defending democracy: safeguarding independent community voices. The report outlined the significant importance that community organisations, like Advocacy for Inclusion, deliver to public wellbeing and policy.

As civil society members, community organisations provide services on behalf of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and ensure public debate continues and is heard. With increasing financial pressure and clauses introduced to our funding agreements, our community voices are becoming less heard and suppressed further. Advocacy for Inclusion actively fights to be heard on advocacy issues on behalf of people with disabilities that are heavily marginalised in the ACT. Through our self-advocacy groups and policy work, we are working to ensure that they are heard and develop the voice to be heard.

Advocacy is needed more than ever to ensure that the public debate continues for our most marginalised in the ACT and Australia-wide.
We support the following recommendations to:

• Federal and state governments should remove any clauses from funding agreements with NGOs (Advocacy for Inclusion is a DPO) that prevent government funding being used for law reform, policy and advocacy work.
• Standard terms should be introduced into federal and state funding agreements with NGOs to clarify that organisations with government funding are not preventing from entering the public debate or criticising governments.
• The Federal government should restore and ensure funding to peak sector bodies that undertake advocacy work on behalf of their sectors.
Advocacy for Inclusion also holds a DGR status and reply on our status to ensure that our work continues and our self-advocacy groups continue. We also see that it improves our organisation’s ability to foster a stronger, independent and diverse disability sector on behalf of our consumers.

The question can be asked: if we cannot criticise openly criticise our government and with reason, how do we hold our government to account in order to be included in active democracy?

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

 

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MAY
16

Federal Budget 2017-18 Release

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Advocacy for Inclusion welcomes the new Federal Budget initiatives surrounding the NDIS and the security of its funding under the full transition in 2020 Australia-wide.

It is promising that the Coalition government has committed funding of the NDIS as a priority within the Budget, through a 0.5% Medicare Levy increase which will be a viable approach to covering the NDIS costs to participants. The increase in levy will ensure that the needs of people with disability are fully supported and met.

We look forward to the establishment of the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission, a nationally consistent framework, and its implementation to provide quality services for NDIS participations. We are anticipating that such a commission will assist our work in advocacy for people with disabilities in an individual and systematic advocacy focus.

Despite a massive win with the NDIS in the Budget, one of the concerns that feature in the new Budget is the punishing welfare measures that will in plainly affect the most vulnerable in our communities, in particular people with disabilities. The increase in obligations and the potential demerit system targeted to people with disability who are unemployed and unable to work, is unfair and is likely to cause more harm than good.

Whilst our organisation does not solely work in the employment advocacy space, we focus hard on justice and the right to be equally part of society. In our work, we see and meet people who face significant barriers to accessibility of services and support within the Canberra community in form of housing, justice and parenting. We are concerned that a further difficult system to access income support or government support directed at people with disability who are highly vulnerable and are already heavily marginalised in our communities will create more problems than solutions.

The Budget has provided the disability community with a fabulous win of the fully-funded NDIS that will benefit people with disabilities; however, there are concerns that the marginalised will be further marginalised.

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

 

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MAR
30

PUBLIC CORRECTION: SUBMISSION TO ACT BUDGET CONSULTATION 2017-18

In our recent submission to the ACT Budget Consultation 2017-2018, we incorrectly stated on page 12 that “in 2011-2016 the annual real expenditure in the ACT Out of Home Care system amounted to $550,000 per child for 671 children in care”. The amount of $550,000 was in fact a typo and should have read $51,165.42 per child as stated in table 15.13 of the Productivity Commission Final Report 2016: Child Protective Services.  Additionally, the correct year span should have read 2014-2015.

The year and amount has since been corrected and a revised copy of our Submission to the ACT Budget has been replaced on our website.

We apologise for this error and thank the individual who discreetly pointed it out to us.

Regardless of the amount, the amount per child in the ACT child protective system is high and the numbers of children of parents with disabilities in out of home care must be addressed.

Christina Ryan

Chief Executive Officer

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FEB
22

Release of the Final Report: Review of the Domestic Adoption Process in the ACT

We have had a small loss with our recent submission to Review the ACT Adoption Process to the Domestic Adoptions Taskforce back in November.

The Community Directorate’s Final Report: Review of the Domestic Adoption Process in the ACT has been released.

Overall it is a disappointing report – disability is barely mentioned, but it was clear that we were not the only organisation arguing the concern of how consent is gathered from birth parents with disabilities when their child is removed and placed into the child protective system.

The only positive outcome is that the Adoption Taskforce acknowledged one of Advocacy for Inclusion’s recommendation to explore dispensation of consent provisions in the Adoption Act 1993 to allow the ACT to better respond to the complexity of out of home care circumstances – that is pretty much the only plus but they did argue back at it nonetheless.

One of the disappointing sections is on open adoption (p.11) where they state, “Contemporary adoption practices reflect a shift away from secrecy to open adoptions. All adoptions in the ACT are ‘open’, where the identities of birth parents are made known to children who are adopted and adoptive families. An open exchange of information and/or contact between the child and their birth parents/family is acknowledged as best practice”.

We argued in our submission that this is not actually happening and the birth parents with disability are often left out, particularly in the CYPS processes.

The Directorate has openly defended its consent-process when a child is being considered for adoption, but placed it under on their ‘to look at’ list no less. They argue that dispensation is a legal process by which a court may declare that the consent of a parent is not required for an adoption order to be granted.  This is hugely concerning as it basically saying that consent is not needed at all by the birth parent.

Disability is mentioned only p. 19 and Advocacy for Inclusion is quoted:

6.32. A common concern among respondents who commented on the consent process was the perceived lack of focus on support for birth parents. This view was put forward by community advocacy groups, for example:

“We do not see ‘capacity’ as being taken into account when the general consensus of CYPS and the ACT Government is a presumption that a parent with disability is unable to understand or exercise capacity at all.”

6.33. Furthermore, the needs of parents with disability should be supported to enable family restoration, but also with regard to adoption:

“women with disabilities who are parents, or who are seeking to become parents, report difficulty in accessing appropriate information, services and support.”

 

According the ACT Domestic Adoptions Taskforce, legal grounds for dispensation applications (no consent required) is set out under Section 35 of the Adoption Act 1993. It depends on individual cases, and where disability is court may, by order, nullify consent with reason that the. physical and mental condition of the person is such that he or she is not capable of considering properly the question of whether consent should be given.

A huge concern as we have continuously argue that parents with a disability facing the Child Protection System and have their children removed, should be required an advocate to enable them to make these decisions.

Out of all this, they did acknowledge that a review of the dispensation process is needed as a ‘possible area of reform’ in evaluating how birth parents, including those with disability, received support-focused mechanisms. It should not be considered a possible area of reform, but simply an area of reform alone.

Our submission was acknowledged and quoted on p.24:

6.60. Supporting birth parents to enable informed consent is a message put forward by many respondents. This includes providing education and resources, which are demonstrably effective, to enable a frank and emotionally adept conversation. One respondent commented that, unfortunately:

“there is a lack of suitable information available in Australia, including the ACT, on child-rearing as well as adoption measures for parents making a consenting choice.”

6.61. An element of continuing support includes informing the birth family of progress in the adoption process and confirming with the adoptive family that this has occurred, prior to further contact.

6.62. One respondent reported potential confusion with legislative frameworks in relation to the decision making capacity of parents with a disability. Specifically, the respondent reported disparities between:

“the Adoption Act 1993, the Children and Young Peoples Act 2014 [sic] and the Guardianship and Management of Property Act 1991 where the guidelines between decision-making capacity for a parent with disability, and the role of their guardian are ill-considered and confusing”. This was ours.

 

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

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FEB
21

Things are what you make of them.

Things don't always go to plan.

As part of our role as Trainers at Advocacy for Inclusion, we facilitate Self Advocacy groups. As facilitators it is our job to help things run smoothly not to direct the groups. It is the self advocates themselves who direct the groups and the topics. Many of the groups have self advocates who have been using their skills for some time and take a leadership role and we don't have much in the way of facilitating to do. 

Sometimes things do not go quite to plan and this is usually when the biggest opportunity for skill building and practising self advocacy skills occur. The Trainers will step in and take the facilitating role to its true meaning of "smoothing things"

Recently we had two people with a difference of opinion. Pretty much an everyday occurrence you would think. However, often people with disability are stopped from sharing their opinion, perhaps told that their opinions do not matter, are unimportant or simply are just never asked. Many people with disability have been so marginalised they have never been taught the skills to deal with this sort of confrontation appropriately or given the opportunity to practice the skills if this should arise. It is the sort of thing that leads to "challenging behaviour" as they feel unheard.

In our groups, everyone has a voice and is encouraged to share their thoughts. In this case, as I said, there was a difference of opinion. Voices became raised, people were visibly upset. So what did we do? We collectively agreed we all had an opinion. We all agreed they were different. We all agreed we had the right to our own opinion. People were given the opportunity to express their opinion and identify what they felt and why. We focused on staying calm and using respect - in our language, in our volume and in our body language. All skills required to be able to self advocate effectively.

Everyone in the end felt heard. Everyone in the end felt respected. Everyone was able to accept we had different opinions and that was ok as long as we were assertive and not agressive.

We finished off our group session each describing a time when we felt the happiness. What do you know - they were all very similar and despite our differences of opinion earlier, we had found a common place in the end.

As one of the self advocates involved shared with us as we were packing up. 

"life is like the weather, you never know when it is going to change" You need to be prepared.

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FEB
06

Recent submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on women with disabilities and their right to escape violence without restriction

Advocacy for Inclusion works consistently with women with disabilities who are experiencing violence and have found the contexts in which these crimes occur are not recognised by the wider community as being forms of violence.

This week we have submitted our first submission for 2017 to the UN Special Rapporteur on the topic of Protection Orders and Shelters as ways of prevention and protection of violence against women. The issues covered in our *short* but loud publication highlight that women with disabilities are some of the most vulnerable members of the ACT community to all forms of violence and abuse.

They also experience more barriers than the rest of the community in accessing shelter and services when escaping domestic violence. Consequently, many are unable to realise their right to be free from violence and exploitation. The barriers include:

  • Inadequate awareness and understanding among the community of the experience of violence against women with disabilities, including a lack of research and data collection;
  • Denial among the community that the types of violence experienced by women with disabilities is actually violence;
  • Lack of legislative recognition and protections afforded to women with disabilities as victims of violence;
  • Lack of support, programs, resources and information appropriate and accessible for women with disabilities to help them be free from violence;
  • Mishandling by disability accommodation providers of incidents of violence against women with disabilities, including lack of training among staff on how to respond to such incidents

The particular vulnerability of women with disabilities experiencing dependence on abusive care givers or partners, which we see time and time again, also depend heavily on supports provided within a violent residential care setting, fear of consequences of reporting incidents due to this power differential, and for many a conditioning to violent treatment over a lifetime.

 

Submission 1 completed for 2017. Cheers to more coming!

Check out our submission here in Word or PDF format: http://linkis.com/org/RGLwS

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

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DEC
22

Submission to ACT Budget Consultation 2017–18

Submission to ACT Budget Consultation 2017–18

It is that time of the year again and the policy team have put together our submission to the ACT Budget Consultation 2017-18. We have gone slightly off the track of our usual budget model and have chosen to take this submission into an economic perspective. Our focus is:

 

Recognising Marginalisation - addressing systemic discrimination and inequality for people with disabilities in the ACT engaging with justice processes

 

This year, Advocacy for Inclusion have focussed our organisation to justice matters in the ACT and addressing the barriers to reasonable access to justice faced by people with disabilities.

The submission also designed and built an entirely new, and innovative, model of independent specialist disability advocacy. We have taken a strong position on reminding the government how much money it costs to imprison an individual, including a person with a disability. It is expensive and budgetary savings measures can be well-spent if advocacy is introduced at the beginning of the justice process as a base of early intervention, with the possibility to avoiding imprisonment altogether.

Our key areas of concerns throughout the paper are:

  1. Marginalisation and inequality
  2. Implementing the National Disability Strategy
  3. Recognising marginalisation in the justice system including as:
    1. An offender
    2. A parent
    3. A victim
  4. Equal participation in justice processes
  5. Budget savings through independent specialist disability advocacy

The core recommendation (on top of healthy 15 recommendations) that we are asking the government to take note of is to recognise that specialist disability responses to justice processes will reduce marginalisation and inequality for people with disabilities in the ACT, and immediately fund them appropriately.

The full submission is now available on our website.

Check out our submission here in Word or PDF format

Follow our Twitter: @Adv4I_Policy

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DEC
21

2017 Self-Advocacy groups

2017 is already here and we are looking forward to another exciting and challenging year ahead of us. Membership is open to join either our Self-Advocacy or Mothers Self- Advocacy groups.

At the Self-Advocacy groups you will learn about your rights and how to exercise them. You will learn skills for speaking confidently. You will have the opportunity to discuss current affairs and local issues.

At the Mother’s group all of the above plus the opportunity to share your experiences with other mother’s with a disability. Your children might be living with you or in care. The Self-Advocacy Mothers group is place where you learn about yours and your children’s rights.

The groups are free and open to anyone with a disability.

Upcoming dates for the groups for 2017 are:

Self-Advocacy Plus                                       Mother’s Self Advocacy

Mondays                                                       Tuesdays

16 January                                                    17 January

13 February                                                   21 February

20 March 2017                                              21 March

Come along all people with disability welcome

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DEC
19

Self-Advocacy Groups 2016

Self-Advocacy Groups 2016

Our Self Advocacy and Mothers Self Advocacy groups provide an opportunity to discover, reflect and respond to issues of barriers and support all aspects of participation in the ACT.

As the year comes to end we look back at all the changes we had this year. We moved into our own training room in The Griffin Centre. This has been wonderful and given us our own space to meet; it also allows us to display some of the work produced by our members. We have our new Training Officer, Tracie working alongside Sharon. We have had many new members join over the past 12 months and we look forward to building on these friendships through 2017.

We had lengthy discussions at election time, and around other local issues. We kept our members up to date with other training opportunities as well educated people to have the skills to speak up for themselves. The members are also able to assist, support and educate each other with their own experiences and knowledge.

The Self - Advocacy groups have helped people to know their rights and exercise them, express their feelings, recognise the importance of responsible decision-making and make informed decisions
Overall it is about people feeling good about themselves and using their skills in wider community to ensure their own rights or the rights of others are being met.

We would like to take this opportunity in wishing everyone a very happy and safe holiday session.

 

See the Self-advocacy dates for 2017: 

Self-Advocacy Plus Group

 

Mothers Self-advocacy group

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DEC
13

Privacy Needs to Remain Paramount!

Last week we submitted a submission Response to the JACS as a community contribution to on topic of Information Sharing in the Context of Family Violence.

The new ACT Government 2016-17 ‘Safer Families’ Package fails to recognise that people with disabilities do not all live in ‘family-like’ arrangements. Relationships, consensual or not, are not recognised if the person with disability is experiencing violence in their home by support workers, co-residents with disabilities, or kinship carers and this impacts on how information sharing should consider the privacy of individuals in these settings.

The core argument we made is that people with disabilities, including those with diverse decision-making abilities, are entitled to the same privacy rights as anyone else, including collection of their personal information by lawful means, the right to access and collect personal information held by agencies, restrictions on disclosure of personal information without consent unless lawfully authorised, and the right to hold organisations accountable when privacy and consent is breached in a domestic violence context.

Information sharing and privacy needs to be supported through strong policy and procedures and a clear mandate to both government and community providers that they respond to and support clients with disabilities, who have been experiencing domestic violence, with specialist awareness of the need for extra privacy protections.

It is vital that people with disabilities are considered when their privacy is shared among government agencies, service providers and even family members or guardians when the channels are further opened to allow “fluidity” to information sharing. The privacy of people with disabilities is already heavily eroded and the issue of lack of consent and disregard for individual privacy is at high risk of becoming further diminished with increased information sharing protocols.

 

Recommendation 1: The ACT Government must ensure that any information sharing between agencies and organisations in the family violence or child protection systems recognises the extreme lack of privacy generally afforded to people with disabilities and ensures strong mechanisms to specifically protect the information of people with disabilities including through the development of appropriate format consent processes.

 

Recommendation 2: Robust firewalls regarding information sharing and privacy of people with disabilities, particularly where consent is concerned, must be in place for all information held.

 

Recommendation 3: That the ACT government develop robust guidelines for agencies and organisations working in family violence services to recognise the culture and risks associated with sharing of information of people with disabilities living in congregate or ‘kinship’ arrangements to ensure further erosion of their privacy is explicitly prevented.

Read the full submission here: http://www.advocacyforinclusion.org/Information_Sharing__Family_Violence_Submission_FINAL.pdf

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DEC
01

Women with disabilities want outcomes to eliminate violence.

Another International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women (IDEVAW), another round of speeches expressing concern and commitments by politicians, and another year failing to address violence against women with disabilities.

Maybe we’re being hysterical insisting that something must be done to address the appalling levels of violence experienced by women with disabilities?

Maybe something was tried and it didn’t work, so we shouldn’t bother doing anything else?

Maybe this isn’t such a big deal and we should all just calm down?

No, no and no.

  • 70 per cent of women with disabilities have experienced sexual violence (WWDA).
  • 90 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities have experienced rape / sexual assault (WWDA).
  • Twenty five per cent of rapes are against women with disabilities (CASA).
  • Half of reported incidents of violence against women are against women with disabilities (ABS).
  • Women with disabilities are forty per cent more likely to experience violence than other women (COAG).

Women with disabilities experience horrific levels of violence and Australian governments have continually failed to respond.

At the recent COAG summit on violence against women three of the delegates were women with disabilities - out of 190 delegates. This equates to just 1.5% of delegates, yet women with disabilities are about half of the issue we are working to address, we are also 20% of women. How will these appalling statistics ever change if there is no preparedness to even have women with disabilities in the room? This is either tokenism, or a complete lack of understanding, or both.

For two decades women with disabilities, through our representative groups, have raised concerns, highlighted what is happening, and tried to be heard. The most common response by governments so far has been “prove it”.

When the first three year action plan of the National Plan to Address Violence Against Women and Their Children was released in 2011 women with disabilities were named as one of four high risk target groups. Yet not a single project was funded in that triennial round to address the problem. Eventually, after significant lobbying by women with disabilities organisations a project designed to gather evidence was funded. We wanted outcomes, but were asked to “prove it” yet again.

The Council of Australian Governments has just released the third action plan for the National Plan. The first two action plans produced no outcomes for women with disabilities, and there are low expectations that anything will markedly change now. Once again more research is being undertaken to identify what violence against women with disabilities looks like, how it happens, and why.

How much evidence is really needed before someone notices that there is a major issue here?

What is going on? Why is there consistent naming of women with disabilities as a priority group, yet no outcomes are delivered?

For many years, including at the beginning the first action plan, women with disabilities have said it’s time for outcomes. We know there is a significant issue here, and we know what it looks like. We have written about it, spoken about it, lobbied governments about it, yet governments still fail to cover us with their laws and continue to want proof that this is even happening.

Is this because the problem is so big, and so confronting, that the natural response of any person is to avoid having to see it? After all, if governments do recognise the problem, and do start to address it, it will take resources. Is it better to just ignore it and hope it goes away?

Well it looks that way.

Women with disabilities know what is happening and we want outcomes.

We want governments to believe us.

We want governments to recognise who we are and what our experiences are.

We want governments to have us in the room to talk to them, in more than token numbers.

We want governments to hear what we have to say.

We want to be part of the solution.

We want governments to actually do something.

It’s time to eliminate violence against women with disabilities. 

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NOV
28

Annual General Meeting elections for 2017

On Tuesday 15 November, Advocacy for Inclusion held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in which it elected new members of the Board for 2017.

The night was a great opportunity for members to come together and hear about all the great things that the board and staff had achieved during the year.

 

Our Board for 2016-17 includes:

  • Deputy Chair: Vincent McCormick
  • Treasurer: John Koulouris
  • Committee member: Jane Flanagan
  • Committee member: Marietta Le Grand
  • Committee member: Peter Dwyer
  • Committee member: Paul Salinas
  • Committee member: Jess White

At this meeting, we bid farewell to two long-serving board members Jenni Vincent and Ian Tunstall and founding member Karen Connaughton.

A Chair of the Board is yet to be elected and will be decided at the next meeting.

Advocacy for Inclusion become a Disabled Peoples Organisation (DPO) in May 2016 and proudly has a majority of the board and staff who are people with disabilities.

You can watch the entire AGM meeting on YouTube 

 

Images: Vincent McCormick, Deputy Chair, presenting awards to retiring board member Ian, 

 B2ap3 Thumbnail Ian 3  

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NOV
23

Voting kit recognised as best practice

Earlier this month Advocacy for Inclusion was contacted by Nathan Despott from Inclusion Melbourne. We were honoured to be asked us to present our Voting Kit at the Political citizenship and people with intellectual disability seminar. The seminar was a collaborative event presented by ASID, Inclusion Melbourne and the Living with Disability Research Centre. 

Our Voting Kit was included as an example of best practice. http://www.advocacyforinclusion.org/index.php/resources/voting-kit.

The voting kit was developed in 2013 following consultation with our self-advocacy network and answers many of the questions that they have raised about their right to vote.

We discovered that some self-advocates had taken their name off the electoral roll because they didn’t understand voting. Others had never bothered to be enrolled because they found it too confusing.

 

The aim of the kit was to assist voters to get out there and to participate. As Christina Ryan our CEO points out “All Australian citizens have the right to vote, but people with disabilities don’t always feel confident in exercising that right”

The voting kit was designed in plain English to help people understand voting. It is designed to help the voter identify what their key issues are and it helps access candidate and party positions and of course information on how to go and vote – all things needed to be able to make an informed choice. The kit is broken down into 4 key areas and therefore into manageable pieces of information.

Our experience facilitating self-advocacy groups is that people can become easily overwhelmed and confused by a lot of information all at once. By breaking things down into separate key areas people are then able to take away information and process it, be able to ask questions and then move onto the next one. It is important to revisit the information as well. So discussion about voting and politics happens regularly in our self-advocacy groups.

Canberra has recently had local elections as well as the federal election. Our stats show that our voting kit was viewed over 2000 times over this period. In the week following the Seminar our stats showed that our Voting Kit had been viewed over 200 times!

When recently asked about views on voting one of our self-advocates made the important point “everyone's vote is equal no matter who you are”

 

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