Linda Hughes and Catherine Mahony represent Community Disability Alliance Hunter, a user-led organisation run by and for people with disability.
LAST week, the Newcastle Herald reported the possible closure of the Stockton Centre for people with disabilities. Concerns were raised about this by family members of residents, and unions.
What hasn’t been raised are the well-documented detrimental outcomes of institutional care nor the benefits and positive outcomes of closing institutions and enabling people to live in the community with appropriate support. These benefits extend to people with disability, families and the community.
We strongly agree with the Newcastle state member Tim Owen that institutional care does not meet contemporary standards.
We commend the decision to close the Stockton Centre. As an institution it can never meet the residents’ fundamental needs, let alone their right to active citizenship.
We must hold the government to account to ensure that residents have the support they need to experience new opportunities as the basis to inform choice.
Residents and their families also need assistance to adapt to this very significant change.
There is substantial and conclusive research about the negative outcomes for people with disabilities in institutions such as Stockton that can, in fact, heighten the vulnerability of residents.
However, research indicates that when people with disability leave institutions and live in the community they experience improvements in health, social participation and well-being.
Studies have found that families initially opposed to closure were almost always satisfied with the results of the move to the community after it occurred.
Their preference for community-based services increased significantly over time as did their contact with the person with disability living in the community.
We understand family anxiety about the closure but, based on research, we believe that their involvement in the closure will lead to more positive outcomes for their family member with disability.
Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability states that “persons with a disability have a right to full inclusion and participation in the community”.
There are many examples of people with disability, even people with profound impairments, living good lives as active citizens included in the community.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme framework, under which funds are allocated to an individual, provides the opportunity for each person with a disability to lead a good life. This, of course, includes residents of Stockton.
There is no simple solution to meeting the support needs of people with disability and their families. There is no one option that will work for everyone – that is why we must explore innovative, sustainable and cost-effective ways to provide flexible, individualised support to people and their families.