Ausnew Home Care | Peering into the secret world of state care reveals bleak picture, but things are changing

Peering into the secret world of state care reveals bleak picture, but things are changing

disability Disability Employment Services disability law disability stereotypes intellectual disability Living With a Disability NDIS NDIS Aged Care Approved NDIS and Personal Care NDIS Plan no ‘dis’ in disability. Personal Care Services under NDIS Seeing the ability in disability umbrella of disability

Tens of thousands of Australians live in a hidden world, where faceless agents pull the strings, and millions of dollars are funnelled in and out.

A wall of secrecy surrounds this world that has been fortified with bricks of decades-old legislation.

In some states, simply writing about what happens inside is a criminal offence.

In other states, showing you a picture of one of these secret Australians can land a journalist in jail.

While this system was designed to protect these people, it has arguably left them more vulnerable.

A last resort

For the most part, people in Australia have the freedom to make their own choices.

But there are notable exceptions, including those deemed legally incapable of making their own decisions.

A woman with a blurred face sitting behind a window, the reflection of a lattice looks like prison bars around her.
The disability royal commission heard about people under state care feeling "trapped" and "silenced".()

People with cognitive impairments – including those with dementia or head injuries – can be assigned a guardian to make decisions for them.

Those without any loved ones willing or able to take on the responsibility are swept into state care, where government agents decide where they live, who they can talk to, and what they do day-to-day.

It's a necessary service for people with nowhere else to go. A last resort.

It's also a world governed by tough confidentiality rules – it's illegal across most of Australia to identify anyone under state care, and many of them only know the people managing their lives through a first name and identification number.

The rules are intended to stop people from taking advantage of vulnerable Australians, but also makes it difficult for them to speak out when things go wrong.

And in some cases, the rules even stop people from accessing information about themselves.

Trapped with 'no dignity'

In 2022, the disability royal commission heard from some of the 50,000 people across Australia living under the care of a public guardian or public trustee, which manages finances.

"A strong theme is feeling trapped, overly protected, and having no dignity," Senior Counsel Assisting the commission, Kate Eastman, said.

"A key pillar of guardianship and administration law is that these orders are only to be provided or made as a last resort and to be done in the least restrictive manner."

However, an ABC investigation into public trustees and guardians across Australia has shown that isn't always the case.

Pensioners with little means have been charged more in fees than they're given, some have been forced to live in residential care against their will, and others have been left with no access to funds for food and other necessities for weeks.

Lack of accountability 

Perth lawyer Rowena Petrenas said there was little recourse or advocacy available for people who were trapped.

"It really means there's not a lot of accountability ... that's really problematic," she said.

A woman with a neutral expression wearing glasses, sitting on a couch in an office.
Rowena Petrenas says there's often nothing people can do when things go wrong in state care.()

Ms Petrenas works with people at risk of experiencing elder abuse at the Older People's Rights Service.

"We're not funded to help people who might be aggrieved by decisions made by the Public Trustee, or Office of the Public Advocate ... there's also no community legal centres who have got any specific funding to be able to provide advice to people in these situations," she said.

And gag laws preventing journalists from identifying people under state care doesn't help on the accountability side of things.

A measure of society

However, horror stories in state care probably aren't a case of agents gleefully running vulnerable people's lives into the ground. 

It is more likely these negative stories arise from agents struggling under a high workload.

Some clients under state care have told the ABC their trust managers were inundated with more than 100 case files.

Let that sink in – one person was in charge of more than 100 lives.

An old, black and white photo of a girl which has been scratched to conceal her face.
The disability royal commission heard of a lack of transparency in state care.()

Another possible contributing factor is that the system is outdated and needs to be modernised.

An ageing population and an increasing number of people with mental illness means a growing cohort of people requiring services provided under state care.

The government bodies recoup most of their operational costs from fees charged to their clients, and some unknowingly subsidise the fees of others who are unable to pay.

However, in WA for example, the number of people under state care has vastly outgrown the number of people caring for them since its public trustee became self-funded in 2008.

Public trustees across the country mostly follow the self-funding model, minimising cost to taxpayers.

It begs the question though, of whether we should be measuring our society by how we treat our most vulnerable.

Change afoot

With every story that comes out giving a small glimpse into the world hidden to most, pressure builds on authorities to improve the system. 

The Queensland government has ordered two investigations into its public trustee.

Both Queensland and Victoria's public advocates have issued calls to pull down the wall of confidentiality, and repeal gag laws.

A reflection of people walking in a window with the words Public Trustee written on it.
Recent stories have prompted calls for change in state care across the country.()

In WA, the state government has committed to revising its public trustee's fees and self-funding model, and implementing an independent governing body.

A review is also underway by the state's Department of Treasury, which would hope to address the most pressing issues facing people under state care.

As outlined in recent stories, and in the disability royal commission, people under guardianship and administration have been left with little to no autonomy over their own lives.

The commission will no doubt make recommendations for improvements when its final report comes out later this year.

So it seems pressure is mounting, and change is afoot.

But it's not yet clear how much things will improve for our society's most vulnerable, or how much of Australia's secret world will be revealed to the rest of us.


Source: ABC

Older Post Newer Post