Disability body faults reaction to its service
A NEW advocacy service for vulnerable people with disabilities is being met with resistance, lack of co-operation and exclusion from such bodies as the Health Service Executive and the Courts Service, an unpublished report claims.
The most recent six-month report of the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities (NAS), presented at its September 19th board meeting, cites the “reluctance” of one HSE social work team to recognise that a woman with an intellectual disability and whose baby had been taken into care had any specific needs.
In another case a community nursing home manager withheld a man’s disability allowance from him because his behaviour was “difficult”.
NAS was established last year by the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton. It is managed by Citizens’ Information Services in five locations: Dublin, Westmeath, Offaly, Waterford and Leitrim.
Its 35 advocates provide an independent voice and representation to people with intellectual and sensory disabilities, mental health difficulties or an acquired brain injury, when decisions are being made about their lives.
The report, covering January to June 2012, seen by The Irish Times, indicates the service was advocating for 846 vulnerable people at the time, compared to 622 in the same period in 2011, and 772 in the July to December 2011 period.
While all regions reported a “general welcome at the promotional stage” from organisations to new service, “the approach did not always continue when advocates began work on individual cases”.
The report points out the service is new and “there is still a degree of misunderstanding of representative advocacy.
“There appears to be a tendency for services to refer cases with external issues (families, allowances) to NAS but to withdraw when issues relating to the service itself surface. Reports mentioned superficial co-operation but resistance through delay, slow, late or restricted access to background documents and/or absence of the person with disability at appointments because other activities have been scheduled.
“Reports also mentioned lack of response to letters - this happened even with a HSE disability manager. Documents have been withheld from NAS advocates and FOI requests have been needed to get [them].
“In very few cases did the person with whom the advocate was working have access to reports about themselves and in some cases they were formally denied [them].”
The report describes difficulties working with the Legal Aid Board and the Wards of Court office.
“The Legal Aid Board sometimes refer cases [childcare orders involving a parent with a disability] which are due to be heard in a couple of days, allowing very little preparation time for the advocate.
“NAS managers report inconsistent responses from the Wards of Court office, sometimes co-operation, sometimes delay or refusal to release names of a person’s committee.
In one case, information was withheld from the advocate while the organisation worked with the family to make the person a ward of court “without any opportunity for the person to understand the impact this would have on them or to have any choice in the matter”.
ADVOCACY CASES TWO REPORTS
CASE STUDY 1
John (23), who has a history of homelessness and crime, was referred to the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities (NAS) by his father. He lived in a community hospital for older people and wanted to live independently.