Disability provider Autism Plus to be investigated over sexual abuse allegations

Neelima Choahan

When Maria Thomas placed her son in a state-funded disability emergency home, she expected him to be safe.

Instead, Matthew, a non-verbal man with autism, was attacked several times at a group home, Autism Plus, that he shared with four other people.

As Fairfax Media revealed last year, on the night of April 18, 2015, Matthew was set upon by another resident in a toilet. Police charged the other resident with rape and assault.

The case was later dropped due to fears that the accused's disability was too serious to enable him to comprehend the charges against him.

Now the Victorian Government has decided to investigate the Department of Health and Human Services-funded facility and freeze any new placements. 

Minister for Housing and Disability Martin Foley said there was no place for abuse in the community.

"It cannot and will not be tolerated - especially for a person with a disability to who we owe a special duty of care," Mr Foley said.

"I have asked my department to undertake an independent review of Autism Plus.

"Until we are confident that Autism Plus is providing a service that meets the needs of clients in a safe and secure environment, no new clients will be placed with the organisation."

The department has also been asked to contact the families of current Autism Plus clients to hear directly about their experience and any concerns they may have.

"Every Autism Plus location will be inspected by the department and employee compliance checks will be completed," he said.

"This is to ensure that each site is operating appropriately and with adequate supervision in place for its staff."

Ms Thomas, who is still fighting to have her son moved from the facility where he suffered abuse, said she was happy to hear about the investigation, but she also held the department responsible for allowing the abuse to occur.

"Actually, DHS [now known as the Department of Health and Human Services] played a big role," she said.

"How come, how come they didn't do anything for the first time that Matthew was assaulted?

"Why is my son still in Autism Plus? I am waiting for DHS to do something."

A spokeswoman for Mr Foley said they would work with Autism Plus and the department "to seek to ensure Maria and Matthew's wishes to relocate were fulfilled".

Another woman, Anne Mallia, told ABC's Four Connors on Monday her son, also a resident at the same facility, had been sexually groomed by the same resident. 

Autism Plus told Four Connors it had asked the department to move the man as he was a "significant and ongoing risk" to Matthew and other clients, but the government insisted the man stay.

Mr Foley said he was not "advised" about it, and could not speak about the matter. But, he said, such incidents were a "rank failure" at many levels. 

"It is also evident that my department needs to do more to ensure people with a disability are not continued to be let down in any way," he said. 

In a statement, Autism Plus general manager Edward Boghikian said they were dedicated to providing a safe place to live for young people with autism. 

"Autism Plus has been involved in formal investigations into the matters raised and we are open to all measures to manage risk in our services and across the wider system," Mr Boghikian said. 

"This is a challenging area where multiple agencies work together in an effort to provide the best care for young people and their families. Autism Plus has always advocated faithfully to other agencies on behalf of our clients and will continue to do so."

from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/disabi...