Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Queensland punishes disabled children kept in cages

The World Today - Disabled children kept in cage: allegation

TONY EASTLEY: Still in Queensland, and there are disturbing new allegations about disabled children having suffered extraordinary abuse in private residential care facilities.

Premier Peter Beattie's office has confirmed it's received an official complaint about mentally and physically disabled people being locked in cages and threatened with broom handles.

Inquiries are now underway, as Nick Grimm reports.

NICK GRIMM: The Queensland Government has today found itself fielding claims that it's been too slow to act on the allegations.

Most alarming, the claim disabled children were locked in cages by residential care staff who were in the habit of banging on the cage with a broom handle, threatening punishment.

JUDY SPENCE: Look, there've been allegations about disorganisation for some time.

NICK GRIMM: Queensland's Minister for Disability Services, Judy Spence, says her department took action against the residential care facility five months ago.

JUDY SPENCE: In July of this year children were removed from the facility, they had been sent there for short-term or respite periods for some time, that has no longer occurred.

NICK GRIMM: But Queensland's Opposition Leader, the National Party's Lawrence Springborg, says the public deserves a better explanation.

LAWRENCE SPRINGBORG: Well, my concern about this is that the matter was raised with the Premier over 12 months ago, and Mr Beattie hadn't responded until somebody else came on the scene and actually took some real action in this area.

And it seems to me that Mr Beattie is only interested in controlling the fallout from issues, rather than really getting to the bottom of problems and to actually fix thing for the future. And I think that as a consequence, kids and those people with disabilities who are in the care of his Government having been the big, big losers.

NICK GRIMM: Meanwhile, organisations which represent people with disabilities are also demanding further action.

KEVIN COCKS: Sadly, once again, vulnerable people are left exposed to those who have primary interests in making money.

NICK GRIMM: Kevin Cocks from Queensland Advocacy says these new allegations fit a wider pattern of abuse of the vulnerable in the state's institutions.

KEVIN COCKS: The Minister's response is that they have taken action, but I think that it has been slow, and I have been brought to my attention that there are allegations that departmental officers as far back as two years ago were let known of some of the allegations that have surfaced, and I don't have the power to investigate that, but I hope that is part of what the Minister is investigating.

If her departmental officers have ignored allegations of abuse, and if that's the case, we know people have beenÉ were continued to be placed there after those allegations allegedly were made.

NICK GRIMM: But the Queensland Disabilities Services Minister, Judy Spence, is defending the way the allegations have been handled.

JUDY SPENCE: When we became aware of the serious allegations in July this year, we asked the organisation to stand down their four senior staff members, and they did so, and indeed we provided the organisation with more funding to cover the cost of replacing the four staff members.

So there has been an ongoing investigation that hasn't been completed, and we have taken a number of steps in the last six months to make sure that the services provided by this organisation are quality services.

NICK GRIMM: The allegations are now the subject of not only a police investigation and Disability Services departmental inquiry, but they're also being examined by Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission.

And while children have been removed from the facility, adults remain in care there.

Judy Spence again.

JUDY SPENCE: I think it's important to understand that adults who have disabilities are free to choose their own services in this state, we don't have any control over where they live, but we no longer refer anyone to this organisation.

I mean, I don't want to comment too much before we see the results of both the police investigation and the Adult Guardian investigation. I'm concerned about the allegations of course, they are being closely monitored by the Department of Disability Services, and that's all occurred since July of this year, when we were made aware of the seriousness of the allegations against this organisation.

TONY EASTLEY: Queensland's Disability Services Minister, Judy Spence. Nick Grimm with that report.

The World Today - Wednesday, 3 December , 2003 12:36:21 reporter: Nick Grimm


Central Europe: Mentally ill kept in padlocked, caged beds
Cental Europe: Patients are sometimes locked in cages like the ones above for months or years, says the Budapest based Mental Disability Advocacy Centre Credit: MDAC.