The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has appointed former judge, the Honourable Jennifer Boland AM, to investigate the alleged unlawful practices of the Irabina Autism Service in Melbourne.
The independent review was prompted by an ABC TV Four Corners report on the service’s severe behaviour program, which showed footage of children with autism and intellectual disabilities being pinned to the ground by six workers.
More information has been brought to the commission on the organisation now owned by Aruma Services, including reportable incidents, complaints, and restrictive and prohibited practices. Due at the end of the year (31 December), a report from Commissioner Boland will present the independent review’s findings and a set of recommendations to help improve future regulatory responses for Irabina and similar cases.
Since 1 July, 2019, the commission had been periodically informed about the service’s program isolating children in small, windowless rooms, but closed it in 2021 after the details came to light. It wasn’t until the September Four Corners report that an independent review was felt to be justified, after an interview with a speech pathologist who said she’d seen the same practices happening there in February 2022.
Due to the extreme circumstances, the NDIS has enlisted Ms Boland as commissioner. The former Family Court judge now works part time as deputy president of the NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal, but has previously served as deputy president of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), and the head of its Occupational Division from 2014 to 2018. Depending on the advice of Ms Boland, there may be a two-month extension on the report’s finalisation, but any information on the review’s outcome will be subject to the commission’s obligations under the NDIS Act.
Recently the commission sent a letter of notice to 3000 providers across the country who are registered to use regulated restrictive practices, after more than $1.1 million of infringements were logged over recent weeks.
“To ensure your organisation complies with its obligations, you should take immediate action to review the procedures, systems and controls your organisation has in place to comply with the Act and the Rules,” said Acting Deputy Commissioner, Practice Quality and Clinical Advisory, Kenneth Teoh, in the letter sent on 23 October.
“You should also review your supports and services to participants to ensure they are delivered in a safe and competent manner, with care and skill, and with the participants’ rights and safety foremost in mind.”
Since midway through this year, the commission has been targeting the compliance of restrictive practices’ activities with help from its recent budget expansion. This will continue as the Boland Review completes its investigation, through the NDIS reportable incident, behaviour support, complaints and compliance functions.