New research to help prevent abuse of people living with a disability

2 Aug 2019
Kathy Ellem and Paul Harpur
Dr Kathy Ellem and Dr Paul Harpur

The University of Queensland (UQ) and Harvard University researchers have been contracted by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to undertake research to help protect the rights of people living with a disability and decrease the likelihood they will experience abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The study is led by Dr Kathy Ellem from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, Dr Paul Harpur from the School of Law, and Professor Michael Ashley Stein the co-founder and Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability.

Dr Harpur said people living with a disability were at greater risk of experiencing physical, sexual and psychological abuse or exploitation than the general population.

"The right to safety and freedom from violence is a basic human right — this study seeks to defend that right for members of our society who face greater vulnerability," Dr Harpur said.

"We know careful screening of workers is one strategy that can contribute to a safer environment – our work will focus on how this can best be achieved in the Australian context."

The study will investigate protective and risk factors related to abuse by paid caregivers and will examine four major areas relating to the screening of workers.

"Unsupervised care arrangements, the dependency created by client-worker relationships and negative attitudes towards people with a disability can all increase the risk of abuse and exploitation," Dr Ellem said.

"Within this group, Indigenous Australians, women and those from culturally diverse backgrounds who are living with a disability or those who have a cognitive or intellectual impairment, face even greater risk."

By examining the existing evidence on abuse and the screening of disability workers, the researchers will provide recommendations to best support the delivery of NDIS Worker Screening to safeguard the human rights of people in need of care.

The project is funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Quality and Safeguards Commission — an independent agency established to improve the quality and safety of NDIS supports and services. The NDIS Commission is working with state and territory governments to implement nationally consistent worker screening for the NDIS from 1 July 2020.

The NDIS Worker Screening Research Project will build an evidence base, and develop an evaluation methodology, to support the Australian Government and all states and territories in the implementation of nation-wide NDIS worker screening from 1 July 2020.

The research project will be conducted with the support of Dr Grazia Catalano and Paul Andoh from the School of Social Science, and Emily Dart and Elizabeth Kerryn Taliacos from the Law School.

Media: Melanie Williams, Communications and Engagement Manager, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, +61 7 344 31321, +61 413 400 138,