Information for vulnerable persons and their carers

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Vulnerable persons

Unlike children who have a presumptive right to age-appropriate levels of protection and safety, adults are free to make poor, even self-destructive choices.  However, where there is an established incapacity or identifiable loss of capacity to make genuinely informed and independent choices, the situation becomes much more complex.  

The Diocese recognises particular people are in need of additional consideration to ensure they are free from manipulation or compulsion to act against their own best interests, or from actual or threat of abuse. Collectively this group are considered ‘vulnerable persons’ and include adults who have:

  • a physical disability of sufficient severity as to make them dependent on another for assistance in everyday activities and self care
  • a chronic or persistent mental illness that significantly impedes their competence
  • a developmental delay or other cognitive disability to a moderate or profound degree
  • become physically or mentally frail as a result of advanced years.

Each person is an individual and their circumstances unique. Diocesan workers should always treat people as individuals.

The Office of Safeguarding conducts administrative inquiries into alleged misconduct and abuse

Allegation of misconduct or abusive conduct towards a vulnerable person may be distressing.  Nevertheless, the Diocese recognises that adults are free to make choices, even those that appear to be against their best interests.  If the vulnerable person is competent to self-determine and that decision making is free of coercion, the Diocese must respect the person’s choices.

However, if the Diocese receives an allegation that a diocesan worker has acted inappropriately towards a vulnerable person, it will conduct an inquiry to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the allegation.

The Diocese will conduct inquiries at a level commensurate with the seriousness of the alleged conduct.

Local leadership may address allegations of relatively minor misconduct.  For example, if there is a minor allegation made against a parish volunteer providing communion to the housebound, the parish priest may undertake an inquiry into the allegation.  Office of Safeguarding (OoSG) staff will oversee and support the local leadership conducting the inquiry.  For more serious allegations, an OoSG investigator is appointed to conduct the inquiry.

The following information relates to OoSG investigations.

It is the vulnerable person's choice

The investigator will contact the vulnerable person and their guardian or ‘person responsible’, where appropriate, when the vulnerable person is:

  • the victim of alleged inappropriate conduct by a diocesan worker, or
  • a witness to alleged inappropriate conduct.

The investigator will:

  • inform the vulnerable person of OoSG’s role in conducting administrative inquiries
  • advise the vulnerable person of their possible role in the inquiry, as the complainant/alleged victim or as a witness
  • advise the vulnerable person the administrative inquiry is strictly confidential and it should only be discussed with a trusted advisor, advocate or counsellor
  • confirm that the vulnerable person agrees to participate in the inquiry.

The Diocese will inquire into any allegation of a diocesan worker’s misconduct towards a vulnerable person.  But the vulnerable person, whether they are the complainant (alleged victim) or a potential witness in the inquiry, is free to choose if they participate or not.  If the vulnerable person chooses not to participate in the inquiry, they will be asked to put their decision in writing to the investigator.  The vulnerable person will be informed that their choice not to participate in an administrative inquiry may adversely affect the inquiry.

If a vulnerable person chooses to participate in the administrative inquiry, arrangements will be made to have a face-to-face interview at a time and place that best meets the needs of the vulnerable person.

Participating in a formal interview can be stressful.  The vulnerable person will be encouraged to have a support person with them.  The support person should be someone with whom the vulnerable person feels comfortable, has a strong sense of trusts and who has demonstrated their ability to maintain confidences.  Where a guardian has been appointed, the guardian or empowered representative must be present at the interview.

With the consent of the vulnerable person, the interview will be audio recorded.  The audio recording will be transcribed into a written record of interview, a copy of which will be provided to the vulnerable person and guardian or responsible person (where appropriate).  If the written word poses challenges for the vulnerable person, the investigator will explore reasonable adjustments.  The vulnerable person, guardian or responsible person will be given all reasonable opportunity to review the record of interview and submit any corrections, clarifications and further written comments they believe appropriate.  The vulnerable person is asked to sign the record of interview before sending it back to OoSG.  In absence of a response, the OoSG investigator will take the record of interview to be accurate.

Information given to the vulnerable person about the administrative inquiry

Administrative inquiries may be relatively straightforward and resolved within a few weeks; other inquiries extend over months, sometimes years.  Some of the more serious inquiries involve statutory authorities conducting their own inquiries. Statutory authorities’ inquiries take precedence — Police inquiries are paramount, then other statutory authorities.

The vulnerable person who is the alleged victim and, where appropriate, the person’s guardian or responsible person, are given particular consideration during an administrative inquiry including:

  • being informed of the inquiry’s progress — the investigator will set up an agreed schedule of contact with the vulnerable person
  • being advised of the inquiry’s findings relating to the vulnerable person — if there is more than one complainant in the inquiry, the vulnerable person will only be given information in relation to themselves, not others
  • being advised, in general terms, of the outcomes stemming from the inquiry.

The term “findings” describes whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a particular allegation occurred — a “sustained” finding. If there is insufficient evidence, the finding is “not sustained”.  

The term “sustained findings” describes that there is sufficient evidence to establish that a particular allegation occurred, on the balance of probabilities.  If there is insufficient evidence, the finding is “not sustained”.

The term “outcomes” describes key decisions the diocesan leadership makes when one or more allegation in an investigation is “sustained”.  Outcomes can relate to the respondent and operational or systemic issues.

As a witness, once an investigator has interviewed the vulnerable person and their evidence has been finalised, their role in the administrative inquiry is complete. The vulnerable person will be advised when the inquiry has been completed, but they will not be given information in relation to findings or outcomes.

A vulnerable person is protected during and after an administrative inquiry

The Diocese is committed to promoting the safety, wellbeing and respect of vulnerable persons.

With the vulnerable person’s agreement, the investigator will advise the local leadership (for example, the parish priest or manager of a CatholicCare community support program), so they can ensure the vulnerable person is afforded added consideration and support.

Counselling can be made available if the process makes the vulnerable person anxious or distressed. The OoSG will meet the reasonable costs for such counselling

Any allegation a diocesan worker is targeting or discriminating against a vulnerable person because they reported allegations of misconduct or because of their participation in an administrative inquiry is taken very seriously, and the OoSG will investigate the complaint.

The respondent (the diocesan worker subject of allegation) has the right to know who he or she is alleged to have abused.  However, if a vulnerable person is a witness in an inquiry and has reasonable grounds for fear or concern for their future wellbeing — should it become known they gave evidence — the OoSG will protect their identity.  The OoSG will reveal the vulnerable person’s identity if legally compelled to do so.

The primary concern for the Office of Safeguarding and the entire Diocese is to ensure that vulnerable persons feel safe and listened to when participating in an inquiry, whether as the complainant or as a witness.

OoSG investigators will take a trauma-informed approach to their interactions with you and your carer.

If you have special needs, the investigator will undertake all reasonable adjustments to assist you to be able to participate in the inquiry on your terms and with dignity.

Being involved in an administrative inquiry may cause stress, feelings of uncertainty, confusion and fear.  If you believe that you require some additional support, the Diocese will provide you with up to ten (10) counselling sessions, paid for by the Diocese.  To access this support we ask the following:

  • that your choice of counsellor is a registered psychologist or eligible for membership of the AASW (Australian Association of Social Workers) or other recognised professional counselling body
  • that you agree for us to arrange payment of the sessions directly with the counsellor.

Also, we will not pay more than the counselling rates recommended by the APS or AASW.

There may be other supports that we can offer you, but that is best discussed directly between you and the investigator.