R U OK?

Today was R U OK? day and Jan attended the morning tea supporting the event at Parliament. Jan met with the organisers and other Members, including Niall Blair. It was an important event as many people live with suicidal feelings and others are lost.  A simple “are you OK” can open a line of conversation with your friend or family member who you may be worried about, and even those you are not worried about. We should all come together as a community and support those who are having a difficult time. Thanks to R U OK? for this great initiative.

Disability Services

Most institutions and government bodies loathe complaints. Many interpret complaints as a personal affront and attack on their integrity. We do not have a strong government culture of managing complaints. Departments and government agencies perceive complaints as a political wrecking ball leveraged to bring into question the competence of departments. Complaints and compliance regimes are not perceived as opportunities to discover deficiencies in services and avenues to continually improve government services.

Disability service is an area where the response to complaints can make or break a person’s human rights in a most profound way. Deficiencies in service provision transform into barriers that prevent social inclusion and community participation. It denies the right of people with disabilities to achieve their full potential and live fulfilling lives. With the stakes so high we cannot afford to have anything less than a world-class complaints and compliance framework to drive service improvements in the disability sector. It is evident from the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues inquiry that there is a noticeable level of dissatisfaction with Ageing, Disability and Home Care [ADHC] services.

The causes of dissatisfaction are complex and varied. Deficiency in funding causing unmet and undermet need, poor management and governance systems in Ageing, Disability and Home Care and inflexibility in service programs to deliver person-centred service are some of the root causes of dissatisfaction with the organisation. In other instances there are systemic issues in compliance with disability service standards. The Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues considered the issue of complaints and compliance mechanisms in the inquiry into services funded and provided by Ageing, Disability and Home Care. The committee made three key recommendations relating to complaints, complaints monitoring and advocacy services: recommendation 46, Review of Ageing, Disability and Home Care complaints process; recommendation 47, establishment of an independent organisation to review complaints and compliance; and recommendation 48, funding of advocacy services outside of Ageing, Disability and Home Care services.

When one looks at the framework for complaints and compliance monitoring for disability services one sees that we have a fractured and inconsistent system without sufficient transparency and accountability measures. Improving and resolving breaches of policies in disability services based upon user feedback and complaints becomes fraught without a consistent complaints mechanism. Our current system of complaints and compliance in the disability sector is a maze that leaves those trying to navigate it disempowered and disheartened. The different complaint processes, reporting regimes and management obligations for Ageing, Disability and Home Care service providers and non-government service creates confusion that will only intensify with more flexible service provision. Isolation in data collection arising from the different complaint mechanisms means obtaining a full picture of deficiencies in service delivery is not attainable.

Understanding the broader picture of grievances and compliance in the disability sector is further complicated by the reporting of complaints by the Ombudsman and issues picked up by the Official Community Visitor Programs. Ability to seek judicial review of the provision of disability services in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal is far too constrained by section 20 of the Disability Services Act, leaving people with disabilities, their families and carers, and disability advocates without appropriate recourse to challenge decisions about disability services. There are some really simple options for improving complaints management. The first thing we need is to centralise complaint data.

The Disability Services Act and the Community Services (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act can be easily amended to require all non-government organisation providers and Ageing, Disability and Home Care services to forward all complaint data, excluding personal information, to the New South Wales Ombudsman. This way we can get the whole sector-wide picture of potential service deficiencies. I understand the Victorian Ombudsman operates in this way. Seeing the big picture in complaints will help address systemic problems. In terms of actual complaints management bodies it is clear that some complaints cannot be left up to the service provider. Some complaints are serious enough to warrant independent assessment and investigation. Maybe we need to investigate whether a model similar to the New Zealand Health and Disability Commissioner would be appropriate to manage complaints about disability services. It is clear we need to explore these options through a consultative process.

As The Greens spokesperson for disability services I believe we need a better compliance and complaint system. Without appropriate mechanisms we deny people with disabilities a voice in shaping the services that enable participation in society, personal development and social inclusion. We all remain in the dark about where our service system is failing without a coherent and robust system. Over the coming months I am meeting with people with disabilities, carers, disability advocates, service providers and people with experience in complaint systems. I am committed to working with stakeholders to find a better way to manage complaints and compliance in the disability sector so New South Wales can learn from its mistakes and start building innovative and compassionate disability services.

Homelessness

HOMELESSNESS
The Hon. JAN BARHAM:
 National Homelessness Week provides an opportunity to raise awareness across the community of issues surrounding homelessness and to provide activities and services for those working in the homelessness sector and those affected by homelessness. We are all aware of the public and tragic face of homelessness. We all pass the huddled figures in our streets every day—almost literally on our doorstep of Parliament House—curled up in sleeping bags in Martin Place or huddled on the steps of the State Library. They are just some of the estimated 3,559 people of New South Wales who sleep rough each night. National Homelessness Week is a chance for us to think about the less visible aspects of homelessness: the 10,950 people in our State who are forced to rely on family and friends for a bed each night, the 5,201 using crisis accommodation and refuges, and the 7,665 living in boarding houses on a medium-term to long-term basis

They are the harsh figures of homelessness in our State—in total at the last census in 2006, nearly 28,000 people in New South Wales were classified as homeless. But even that figure is probably an underestimate as one of the consistent challenges facing those working in the homelessness sector is the lack of reliable data. Accurate and credible figures are integral to understanding homelessness not only so we can measure the extent of the problem but also so we can also evaluate the effectiveness of services. I note this week that the Minister for Family and Community Services launched the Platform 70 Program in Woolloomooloo. I commend the Government for supporting that program which aims to provide housing and support services to 70 chronically homeless people in this area of Sydney. This concept of combining accommodation with essential support services is exactly what non-government organisations such as Mission Australia have been calling for.

On Monday Mission Australia detailed that its frontline staff spent more time helping people with mental health issues than helping people with homelessness issues. This has prompted calls for the model for shelters to be modified to incorporate the provision of essential services. This move towards shelters providing easy access to services is not new to me. I will give an example from my home Byron Bay area. In Byron Bay a house is used as a drop-in centre for homeless people. It is a joint venture of the Byron Bay Community Centre, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Byron Shire Council. The cottage provides a shelter, the safe storage of personal belongings and access to a variety of services. It is a case of the service providers coming to those in need rather than the expectation that those people make their way to the disbursed services in the area. This example could be replicated across the State, and I would welcome the opportunity to speak with other members about how it can be implemented while we await the long-term program of trying to provide housing for all people in New South Wales.

This move towards a coordinated and person-centred approach to homelessness is completely consistent with priority 6 of the New South Wales Homelessness Action Plan to streamline access to crisis accommodation and specialist homelessness services. This State Action Plan, named “A Way Home”, was released by the State Government in 2009 and lays out some ambitious targets, namely, a reduction of 7 per cent in the overall level of homelessness in New South Wales by 2013, a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of people sleeping rough in New South Wales by 2013 and a reduction of one-third in the number of Aboriginal people that are homeless in New South Wales by 2013. These targets are commendable and the strategies outlined to meet them centre around three key approaches: preventing people from being at risk, responding quickly and effectively to homelessness when it occurs, and ensuring people who have been homeless do not become homeless again.

There are many reasons why people find themselves in a position of homelessness—domestic violence, family violence, financial hardship, mental illness or sometimes an unfortunate run of hard luck. For those who find themselves in such a position it is more than just having no bed or food for the night; it is a lack of security and privacy, and a profound sense of isolation and disengagement. In conclusion, I wish to mark this National Week of Homelessness by thanking the hundreds of workers across our State—both paid and volunteers—who do their best every day to assist the homeless. Their patience, compassion and dedication are to be commended.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME
 
The Hon. JAN BARHAM:
 
 Much has been said in recent times about the merit of a proposed national disability insurance scheme and a national injury insurance scheme. The Productivity Commission has strongly endorsed both schemes as a result of its recent comprehensive inquiry, Disability in Care and Support in Australia. I acknowledge everyone who took part, particularly those members of our community who live each day struggling with the heartbreak of life with a disability, either as sufferers themselves or as their carers. These people spoke bravely and passionately about the day-to-day obstacles of the current system and they pleaded for change at all levels. In recommending the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme and national injury insurance scheme, the Productivity Commission passed judgment on the current system, stating:

“Current arrangements are under-funded, inefficient and unfair. They also make it hard for carers to cope since the system relies too much on their informal support. We think that a new scheme is required and that the costs of the scheme are manageable and justified”

Two recent national awareness campaigns illustrate the importance of providing adequate support services to those in our community. The first is Brain Injury Awareness Week, which took place last week, from 15 August to 21 August. Acquired brain injury refers to any damage to the brain that occurs after birth. That damage can be caused by a motor accident, a fall, an act of violence, a work or sporting incident, a stroke, a brain infection, a tumour, a degenerative disease or the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. My colleagues in the House may be surprised to hear that over 500,000 Australians have an acquired brain injury. It affects young and old, with as many as two of every three people with acquired brain injury acquiring their brain injury before they turn 25. It can cause mobility problems, sensory loss, fatigue, epilepsy, and speech and language difficulties. Problems may also arise with thinking skills such as memory and concentration and changes in emotions, behaviour and personality. Those suffering a brain injury and their carers require a diverse range of services and support, depending on the severity of their injury. It is these people who would directly benefit from a national insurance scheme.

The second awareness campaign that aptly illustrates the need for adequate support services is Hearing Awareness Week, which is currently underway. According to the Australian Deafness Forum, 22 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over have a hearing impairment. That is 3.55 million Australians. The theme for this year is “I am ready for anything, is anything ready for me?”—meaning that people with a hearing impairment are ready to be included. The challenge is to the community at large to be more inclusive. As the Deafness Forum rightly states, “Improvements in technology have minimised the barriers to communication and employers have more support than ever to make their workplace inclusive and accessible for Australians with hearing loss.”

The proposed national disability insurance scheme will bring some consistency as well as doubling the amount of funding to disability services and, most importantly, it will reform the care sector to a more person-centred system where individual needs are identified and funded. This is a much-needed and long-awaited development and is strongly supported by the disability services sector. I congratulate all those involved with the Every Australian Counts campaign. This initiative has done an amazing job of highlighting of the desperate situation faced by people with a disability and their carers. I also congratulate the Federal and State governments for their positive responses to the Productivity Commission’s report. Last Friday the Council of Australian Governments made arrangements to begin reform of the sector and I note Minister Constance’s offer to trial a national disability insurance scheme in the Hunter region. The State of New South Wales has already taken steps towards a more person-centred provision of care and I again commend the Government for the Living Life My Way consultation process. I encourage both levels of Government to commit to implementing the full national disability insurance scheme ahead of the Productivity Commission’s timeline of 2019, as we move towards an inclusive society where everyone is valued, regardless of varying ability and where disabled people and their amazing carers are genuinely supported by their community.

Teachers, Police and firefighters strike outside Parliament

Today NSW teachers, police and  firefighters showed their concern for Barry O’Farrel’s IRC legislation which went through Parliament admist a filibuster earlier in the year. Jan went along to show her support.

Media release: Residential Parks review

Residential Parks Register and review supported

 Jan Barham MLC and the NSW Greens have welcomed Government action to establish a state wide register of residential parks and commit to a much needed review of legislation to improve the operation of residential parks.

 The Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011, passed by the Legislative Council on Tuesday, will see the Office of Fair Trading create and maintain an official register of all residential parks in NSW.

 Ms Barham was successful in amending the Bill to expand the register information to include all owners of the parks and a requirement that the register is made public.

 “Despite there being over 950 residential parks in NSW, comprising a mix of long term affordable housing, short term tourism, camping and manufactured home estates, there hasn’t been accurate information collected.  The register will provide data to record the trends and any changes that occur to this type of housing and tourism.” said Ms Barham

 “Over the last few years, there have been many changes in the nature of caravan parks and holiday parks, particularly in coastal areas. At the same time, there’s been a distinct lack of affordable housing in these areas, so residential parks are an important housing and temporary accommodation option. 

 However, when issues arise for tenants regarding their rights, particularly in regards to rent increases, its essential that the relevant information is available to them to be able to take matters to the Consumer Trader Tenancy Tribunal” said Jan Barham.

 The unfortunate reality is that under current legislation, some tenants face challenges that affect their security and well being. Residents’ advocacy groups have advised of situations where rents have suddenly risen or where the tenancy rights of residents have been violated.”

 The Government will proceed with the release of a discussion paper for public comment later this year and conduct consultations on a wide range of issues in relation to residential parks.

“I strongly encourage all members of the community to make submissions. This is an important opportunity to comment on legislation and to improve the lives of thousands of people and enshrine greater protection for those who live in this type of accommodation”

 For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Foster Care Week

The Hon. JAN BARHAM 

 This evening I speak about foster care. For the majority of young people today, their journey to adulthood often extends into their mid-twenties. It is a journey from restricted to full citizenship, from a childhood status characterised by dependency to an adult status derived, in part, from choices. Such life-course choices from which adult rights and responsibilities flow are mediated by the impact of a person’s socioeconomic background, their ethnicity, their gender and any disability they may have. In contrast to the extended transitions made by most young people, the journey to adulthood for many young care leavers is shorter, steeper and often more hazardous. Yet, against many odds, some of these young people have succeeded. They have found fulfilment in their careers and personal lives. What has contributed to the resilience of these young people? How have they been prepared for and assisted during their journey?

Foster carers are people who voluntarily care for children and young people in our community who are unable to live in their own home, irrespective of whether that may be for a few days or until a child becomes an adult. Foster carers stretch their family circle to give children and young people the necessary care, safety and support they require during a very difficult time in their lives. The new Fostering NSW foster care recruitment drive has been a great success and shows how working together with non-government organisations can really make a difference. Around 60 per cent of all new inquiries about foster care during the campaign were prompted by television, magazine, newspaper or online advertising, demonstrating that these advertisements really made an impact on the intended audience.

People become carers for a variety of reasons, but the main motivation is that they love and enjoy the company of children and have the time and energy to provide a caring home for them. More than 9,000 Australians have taken up the challenge of foster care. Although many children are in care there is not much information about how these children view their circumstances. The Child Guardian Report 2006 followed a survey on the outcomes experienced by children and young people in child safety systems in Queensland. The survey represented the views of around 31 per cent of all children living in Queensland foster care and residential facilities. At the time it was a landmark survey because it provided the first large-scale, balanced view of out-of-home care through the eyes of those experiencing it. No other Australian jurisdiction has undertaken such a survey, and indeed such information is lacking internationally. The survey revealed that the majority of children and young people felt their lives had improved since coming into care, with around 90 per cent of them indicating they felt they were better off since entering care. Ninety-eight per cent of children and young people who responded to the survey indicated that they felt safe in out-of-home care. Some of the comments about why children and young people felt safe included:

  “No one harasses me here. No one annoys me here. I don’t get bullied, don’t get pushed and shoved. “This family is a very caring home”

Other positive responses were that 98.9 per cent of young people surveyed stated that they felt their foster carer treated them well, and 84.5 per cent of young people surveyed stated that things had improved for them in the past 12 months, saying things like:

“They have improved because I am placed with my current carer. “I am treated with more respect. I am happy most of the time”

In addition, around 95 per cent of young people and 93 per cent of children said the rules and discipline at their placement were reasonable, and 94 per cent of young people and 93 per cent of children said their possessions were treated with respect at their placement. Of those surveyed, nearly 23 per cent of young people and around 29 per cent of children identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. This reinforces the need for us to stay focused on improving outcomes for Indigenous children and young people. The cultural appropriateness of placements for Indigenous children and young people is a particular concern. I encourage us all to remember the real and positive change that can occur in a child’s life because of good foster care. This is best summarised by one of the young people who responded to the survey. She said the best thing about her foster carer was, “I am not afraid to come home. She respects me with love. It feels like home and I am so happy here.” This kind of outcome that thousands of foster carers around Australia deliver is priceless.

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