COSP17 Intervention on safeguarding people with disability in group homes during a pandemic

This is a statement delivered by Lisa Ira, Senior Policy Officer at People with Disability Australia, on day 2 of the 17th Session Of The Conference Of States Parties To The CRPD (COSP17).

My name is Lisa Ira and I am representing People with Disability Australia.

Today I want to address the issue of safeguarding people with disability in group homes during a pandemic.

Australia’s recent Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability heard evidence of the high prevalence of violence and abuse that occurs in disability group homes, which we can only assume continued during the pandemic.

Pandemics present a unique dilemma for upholding our rights in group homes.

On the one hand, to uphold our Article 25 right to health, we must minimise exposure to the virus. On the other hand, we need safeguarding in group homes to uphold our Article 16 right to freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse.

In Australia, Official Community Visitors schemes provide safeguarding for people with disability in group homes by conducting unannounced visits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some group homes went into extensive lockdowns and were closed to outside visitors and service providers. Indeed, Melbourne in Australia experienced the longest lockdown in the world.

Although community visitors could speak to people with disability over video or phone call, often this was in the presence of a support worker, which is clearly not effective if the abuse is perpetrated by the support worker.

What then, would effective safeguarding look like in the event of a future pandemic? This is a complex question. Usually when a complex question arises, we ask the experts.

In this case, the experts are people with disability – particularly, those living in group homes. We call on States Parties to co-design a strategy for safeguarding people with disability in group homes for the next pandemic as a matter of urgency.

We also want to use this opportunity to implore States Parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to designate National Preventative Mechanisms with jurisdiction to inspect disability group homes and determine how these inspections can be carried out in a pandemic.

Preparing for safe and effective safeguarding of people with disability in group homes during a pandemic cannot be an afterthought – our lives depend on it.

Thank you

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