"Cup of Jo"
Cosmos and Safeguarding are synonymous. We live and breathe raising the bar on the treatment of persons with disabilities, and we are not shy about holding ourselves and our colleaugues accountable to do the same. Safeguarding truly is our ethos; we treat people with dignity and respect, we advocate for their rights and fair treatment, and fundamentally we work to ensure their safety at all times.
And still we have so very far to go! It is 2013 and as I reflect on the progress of the Human Services Sector as a whole I am deeply saddened. I regularly receive allegations of abuse and mistreatment from the amazing individuals we support. People have come to learn that they can trust us, trust us to hear them and to act appropriately to advocate for their wellbeing. But despite our diligence, IT IS NOT ENOUGH!
Did you know that this sector does not have a registry to list and/or ban staff where the abuse was investigated and deemed to be "Founded"???
("Founded" means there was conclusive evidence proving abuse did occur)
This means that staff working in the field that have been found to have abused a vulnerable adult in their care, can continue working in Human Services with no record of the investigation. You may be asking yourself, "How is that possible?" Here's a few things we've noticed...
1. There are a few categories of abuse that are criminal in nature (physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc.); however, our justice system is not currently well-equipped to manage the testimony of persons with disabilities to support them as credible witnesses in court proceedings. The criminal justice system is held to a higher burden of proof, and any witness who cannot consistently/accurately repeat what happened to them creates reasonable doubt that the "would-be accused" committed the offence. So, in the absence of other evidence, no charge may be laid. Thus nothing would show up on the Vulnerable Sectors Check portion of a Criminal Record Check.
2. Even after the agency's investigation has demonstrated that the allegation was Founded, some agencies report moving the abusive staff to another group home or to different area of their organization. The new clients, co-workers and guardians are of course not informed of past issues as that would violate the employees right to confidentiality.
3. If a reputable agency does fire a staff for abuse, that staff person simply applies to another agency (or applies to do private care). They provide references from previous jobs or past colleagues/friends from the agency that dismissed them (instead of Human Resources ) to avoid the history of abuse being revealed, and voila, they get hired! The new agency remains unaware of their abusive history. Again, agenicies that dismissed someone are obligated to uphold confidentiality and without signed consent to release information, must withold knowledge of abuse about past employees.
Do any of these things ring true to your experience? What else is contributing to the mistreatment of vulnerable adults?
So what can you do about it?
LOTS!!! If you are an individual receiving services, do not tolerate abuse/mistreatment and advocate for the staff to receive the appropriate level of discipline (it is not always appropriate to fire the staff; sometimes a good staff was taught wrong and they will use the experience as a "teachable moment" to correct their behaviour). Hold the agency/agencies that support you accountable. And if they won't protect you, move your services to an agency that will and tell your funder exactly why you are requesting an emergency move.
If you are a guardian, ask questions, get involved and refuse to tolerate abuse/mistreatment. Know the agencies policies and if your represented adult is subject to abuse/mistreatment, ask to see their investigation including who they reported the allegation to and ask what they are doing about it. A reputable organization will want to keep you informed every step of the way.
If you are a family member who hires staff privately (i.e. PDD's Family Managed Services, insurance coverage, etc.), please screen your staff! Conduct interviews, check references, and involve the individual recieving support in the hiring process. Look for personnel who have the right mix of education and experience, and ensure that they produce appropriate security screening documentation (i.e. Crimal Records Check with Vulnerable Sectors Check) before they start. Lastly, trust your gut! If something just doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
If you work in an organization, know your abuse policies, educate yourself on the appropriate legislation/funder policy and FOLLOW THEM. Also, encourage your coworkers to use best practises. Do not hesitate to bring allegations forward; there are whistleblowing policies outlined in legislation to protect you. Don't forget you can be charged and fined for not reporting abuse.
You can also advocate for better treatment and changes to the system to improve the safety of vulnerable Albertans receiving government funded care and support. Cosmos is already having dialogue with the Government of Alberta at all levels, advocating to enter partnerships within our region, and believe me, they are listening! Write, email, call or make an appointment with one or all of the following people listed below by clicking on the links to their contact information.
Cosmos also believes strongly in working with government in the interest of safeguarding the staff in our sector. Please stay tuned for another "Cup of Jo" BLOG on Safeguarding Staff in the Disability Services Sector COMING SOON...
Let's start talking about this critical issue and together we can bring about change!
Chair, Central Alberta FASD Society
Services and Development Specialist
Cosmos Community Support Services Ltd.
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