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Disability service provider prioritised profit over participants health and safety: Report

Disabled woman in wheelchair with assistant walking in garden

The Royal Commission has published a Commissioners’ report on Public hearing 23. The hearing was held in Sydney from 16-20 May 2022 and examined the experiences of people with disability (and their families) who received services from the NDIS registered service provider Australian Foundation for Disability (Afford). 

At the time of the hearing, Afford operated 44-day programs across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.

The hearing focused on a Sydney-based day program in Mount Druitt, where participants including Jason* and Toby* were abused by an Afford support worker, Daniel Nuumaalii, in 2019. Although Afford was not responsible for Mr Nuumaalii’s abuse, the Royal Commission identified serious shortcomings regarding actions taken by Afford in its response to the abuse, including that Afford failed to meaningfully engage with or apologise in writing to clients who were abused.

The report makes 29 findings, including that Afford did not have adequate systems in place for families to receive regular information about participants’ activities, to be notified of any issues or to give feedback for service improvements at the day program.

Key findings in the report include:

The number of day program participants increased significantly from 2016 until at least 2021. During this time, Afford focused on growth and financial matters at the expense of the safety and quality of client services.

Afford’s management did not act upon a number of issues raised by staff and participants’ family members about the safety of day centre premises.

Afford’s service agreements were complex and not set out in a way that allowed participants and their families to readily understand what they would be charged.

Team Leaders were required to discharge significant and sometimes overwhelming, administrative, financial, and managerial responsibilities between 2018 and 2021.

The composition of Afford’s Board and executive management was not in a position to promote the provision of safe, high quality disability services in a rights-informed manner.

A copy of this report was provided on a confidential basis to Afford ahead of its CEO, Joanne Toohey, giving further evidence at Public hearing 32 on 15 February 2023. Ms Toohey was appointed to the role of CEO in September 2021. She was not employed by Afford during the period when events examined in Public hearing 23 occurred.

In February 2023, Afford announced they have taken full responsibility and accountability for the failings identified by the Royal Commission from 2015 to 2021 and has announced the resignation of three board directors.

Public hearing 23 is one of a series of Public hearings held by the Royal Commission, examining how disability service providers can and should prevent and respond to violence, neglect and exploitation of people with disabilities.

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