Queensland department knew of intellectually disabled man detained in ‘severe’ conditions, says Ombudsman


Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

Brisbane’s Forensic Disability Service (FDS) has come into the spotlight after the state Ombudsman found one of its detainees had been permanently secluded and controlled with police dogs, despite having an intellectual disability.

In a new report, Ombudsman Phil Clarke revealed the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors had known about the condition of the man, whom Clarke has referred to as ‘Adrian’.

Adrian was secluded 99% of the time between admission at the facility in 2012 and September 2018, which Clarke said had been “significantly detrimental to his health and wellbeing”.

As a child, Adrian was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused at home and by carers, while his support plans were “never adequately or appropriately implemented by staff and carers, and instead, punishment and punitive consequences were used”. 

“The permanent seclusion of Adrian has resulted in a deterioration of his condition and has significantly impacted on his quality of life and human rights,” the Ombudsman said in his report.

“The circumstances of Adrian’s case are severe and concerning, and were widely known to the Director and the Department.

“Having carefully examined evidence obtained from the FDS, the Director and the Department, the investigation concluded that the approach to secluding Adrian has been contrary to law, unreasonable, oppressive and improperly discriminatory.”

According to the Ombudsman, the Queensland Police Service has, at times, been called on by the facility to control Adrian’s behaviour with police dogs.

The report also found the FDS has not recorded and kept CCTV footage despite it being a legal requirement.

“Overall, the investigation found the FDS was significantly non-compliant with legislation designed to safeguard the care, protection and rehabilitation of the vulnerable persons it accommodated,” Clarke said.

The Ombudsman recommended that the Director of the FDS, Vanda Wieczorkowski, review the clinical management of Adrian and the use of seclusion at the facility, as well as the development of a service-wide approach to behaviour support across the FDS to reduce the use of regulated behaviour control. He also recommended a review of the FDS’s management of CCTV images to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and policies.

In its submission to the Ombudsman’s report, the Department said it had a “limited role in the responsibility for the operation of the FDS, but rather the Director and the Administrator, who hold statutory responsibilities under the FD Act, were responsible for all high-level obligations in relation to the FDS”.

But Wieczorkowski disagreed. In her submission, she claimed that “in essence, the Department is and has been responsible for the operation of the FDS”, while her role was “simply seen as a Departmental junior officer”.

“The Director submitted that the day-to-day operation does not fall within the Director’s jurisdiction … The Director stated that the Department ‘continues to make attempts to influence’ the Director’s position, but that she has not been subject to influence.

In providing support for this position, the Director outlined a number of barriers to discharging her statutory obligation. The Director also submitted that, when appointed as Director, she had inherited a service that was operating from a very low base and had not met its intended purpose or vision.

The Director did not accept that the annual reports produced by her lacked transparency, and stated that each annual report reported on audits undertaken by the Director.”

To this, Clarke added his own response:

“Many of the Director’s perspectives in her response to the Ombudsman’s proposed report were not provided during the investigation.
The responses of the Department and the Director to the proposed report indicate that there is no shared understanding about the role of the Department and the role of the Director.
This investigation found that the Department’s approach to the statutory position of the Director has been inconsistent.”

According to the Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory, Wieczorkowski’s term as Director ended 30 June this year.

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