26 September 2023

Public Advocate calls for Agency to fill gap

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The Public Advocate has delivered an urgent call to the State Government to fill a dangerous gap in the protection of at-risk adults in the Victorian community who are suffering from violence and abuse.

The Advocate, Colleen Pearce, called for an existing State Agency with the appropriate functions and powers to be given responsibility for safeguarding and supporting the adults who she says are at risk.

She said a report entitled Line of sight: Refocussing Victoria’s adult safeguarding laws, from her Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) said Victoria had a “patchwork” of Agencies with specific roles, functions and powers, largely focused on the regulation of specific services or providers or Victorians who had a decision-making disability.

The Advocate said some of the Agencies lacked the necessary powers to adequately protect and promote the rights of at-risk adults, “while some adults fall between the various Agencies completely”.

According to OPA: “The array of regulators and services is complex and difficult to navigate, and there is no central point for service providers and the public to report concerns about the abuse, neglect or exploitation of an at-risk adult.”

“Further, current safeguards do not adequately capture violence, abuse or exploitation that does not meet a criminal threshold, such as neglect, psychological abuse, coercion or interference with supports,” it said.

“Our cornerstone recommendation, for a new specialist adult safeguarding function, would go a long way towards filling the gaps in what is a fragmented set of services for at-risk adults.”

Dr Pearce said OPA had long held concerns about the endemic levels of violence and abuse experienced by at-risk adults living in the community who, because of their care and support needs, may be unable to protect themselves.

“This Report highlights the sad fact that there are also people slipping through the cracks here in Victoria,” the Public Advocate said.

“The risks have been well known for many years.”

OPA made seven recommendations in its report, including new legislation and amendments to existing legislation to provide effective protection for at-risk adults; ensuring robust information-sharing arrangements are in place in relation to violence against at-risk adults; and a statewide strategy and action plan for the prevention of abuse, neglect and exploitation of at-risk adults.

The Office of the Public Advocate’s 104-page Report can be downloaded at this PS News link.

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