Young men abused by carer in Sydney never got compensation or written apology, disability inquiry told

by Luke Henriques-Gomes
Carer who worked for service provider Afford was jailed for three years for abuse, royal commission hears

The families of two young men with disabilities who were abused by a carer have told an inquiry they never received a formal apology or compensation from the provider.

The disability royal commission on Monday began a five-day examination of the programs offered by Afford, a large national disability insurance scheme provider with several services in New South Wales, as well as other states.

The inquiry is looking at the experiences of three men with disability – known to the commission as Jason, Simon and Toby* – at a day program run by Afford in western Sydney.

It heard two of the men, 24-year-old Jason, who is autistic and has an intellectual disability, and Toby, 22, were among a number of men abused by a lifestyle support worker employed by Afford.

After police found images of clients taken during their personal care on the carer’s mobile phone, he was charged with offences connected to the abuse, pleaded guilty and was jailed for three years, the inquiry heard.

Under questioning by counsel assisting Ben Fogarty, Jason’s mother, Sally*, said she had received an initial phone call from Afford but no formal apology or compensation.

She said no funds they had spent on services were returned to them.

“I felt, the day he was arrested, for Afford, [it was] ‘wash my hands of him, he’s been arrested, that’s it, we don’t need to deal with anything else’,” Sally told the hearing.

Sally said the family first learned of the abuse from the police, before getting a call from the chief executive from Afford the following day.

She said the chief executive apologised during the phone call and then insisted he had “stayed back late” and checked the paperwork to ensure the offending carer had been employed “properly”.

“And that really stuck in my mind because I’m thinking, at this stage, I’ve just found out that my child’s been abused at the hand of one of your workers and it’s more important for you to tell me that you’ve employed him properly,” Sally said.

“I was in shock … after I got off the phone I remember saying, ‘I don’t understand that phone call at all’.”

Aside from taking intimate images of clients over 2019 and 2020, the carer also taunted and hit the clients.

Suzie*, the mother of Toby, who lives with Down syndrome, said their family had also not received a written apology or compensation. Nor had their payments been refunded.

The inquiry heard that after the carer was arrested Suzie received a short phone call in which the chief executive apologised, though she described it as “pretty perfunctory”.

Suzie and Toby’s fatherwere horrified when they learned of the abuse and developed a deep mistrust of people caring for their son, the inquiry heard.

Simon*, 26, received care on at least one occasion from the Afford worker. By the time man was charged, Simon was no longer receiving care from Afford.

Simon’s mother Lilly* told the inquiry that Afford never informed her that the carer had been charged and she learned about it when another parent shared a news story about the case on Facebook.

Lilly said Afford staff had declined to discuss the matter with her, citing privacy and confidentiality.

There was no evidence Simon had been abused, but Lilly said: “It was a bit devastating and it’s always in the back of your mind – did anything happen to my child?”

The inquiry heard the parents of the three men had complained about the quality of care and invoices that had been issued.

Suzie withdrew Toby after the family was sent an invoice for services that did not occur because he was on holiday with his family in New Zealand.

The inquiry heard that Afford had grown significantly since the rollout of the national NDIS.

According to its annual report, in 2020/2021 it supported more than 6,000 clients with disability and had a yearly revenue of $145.6m after growing from only 898 clients in 2016-17.

Afford will give evidence later in the week along with the NDIS watchdog. The inquiry continues.

* Names throughout are pseudonyms provided by the royal commission