LIFE Without Barriers' has come under fire for rules it imposed on group home residents which may have put them at 'undue risk' of sexual assault and violence.
A former group home resident, 'Sophie', who gave evidence at a hearing on Tuesday, said she felt she was discouraged from forming relationships with men.
She was not allowed to be alone in her room with a man unless the door was left open.
If 'intimate action' was planned, it must be off site, according to rules put in place specifically for her in 2017, which were enforced by Life Without Barriers staff.
Sophie, described as an articulate 34-year-old woman with lives with cerebral palsey, a mild to moderate intellectual disability and epilepsy, said she felt her support workers did not want her to have a boyfriend.
At the age of 26, in 2014, Sophie became engaged, but her fiance was not allowed to spend the night at the group home in which she was living.
Sophie said she felt the relationship was not encouraged or supported by Life Without Barriers staff and ultimately, in 2015, she ended the relationship.
Months after breaking up with her fiance, Sophie went out on a date with a man she'd met online. She would have liked to meet him 'on her own turf' she said, but it was against the rules, because men were not allowed to visit after 6pm.
After a take away dinner, he sexually assaulted her in an isolated park, before dropping her home. He was later charged, convicted, and imprisoned.
By examining this issue, guidance may be provided not only to Life Without Barriers, but also to other service providers.Patrick Griffin SC
Following that incident, Sophie's access to the internet was restricted to stop her meeting and communicating with men, the commission was told.
Patrick Griffin SC, Assisting the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, said the commission was not being asked to make a finding that the sexual assault was caused by Life Without Barriers.
"However, it remains important to assess whether Life Without Barriers' response to Sophie's desire to have an intimate relationship was appropriate to facilitate her goals of intimacy, whether the response frustrated those goals, and whether it caused undue risk to Sophie," Mr Griffin said.
Life without Barriers started out in Newcastle in 1995, but it now provides services throughout Australia and had a revenue last financial year in excess of $755 million.
According to its 2008 annual report, the organisation "pursued the philosophy that positive, healthy relationships" were essential for people in care to feel safe and have an opportunity to improve their lives.
Their focus was on "integrating people back into the community, helping them form relationships".
Mr Griffin said Life Without Barriers' current policies recognised that people with disabilities have the right to "enjoy a full range of relationships", to have "privacy within their home environment" and to ''express and explore their sexuality across their life span".
"Recognition of these rights of sexual autonomy is meaningless unless service providers actively facilitate and support those rights," Mr Griffin said.
The balance between supporting a person's dignity of risk and acting in accordance with a duty of care to that person, to other residents and to staff was not easy, Mr Griffin said.
"However, we should not shy away from this issue because of it's complexity," he said. "Sophie's position is not unique; and the difficulty for support staff of balancing dignity, autonomy and the duty of care remains.
"By examining this issue, guidance may be provided not only to Life Without Barriers, but also to other service providers."
Sophie's group home is one of two case studies the commission is examining over the next two weeks.
Sophie also spoke about the fact she was housed with people with much higher support needs than her own, so workers were often busy with other residents.
That meant she relied on a house mate to help her get dressed "95 per cent of the time", and spent a lot of time in the house alone.
At one of the Life Without Barriers' homes, she was not allowed to have her own key, so she sometimes had to wait for someone else to get home.
The CEO of Life Without Barriers, Claire Robbs, is expected to give evidence on December 14 and 15. Lawyers representing the organisation did not ask questions of Sophie on Tuesday.
Sophie's parents also gave evidence, describing their daughter as effervescent, charming, intelligent and accomplished, as well as sometimes being 'a handful'.
"She's fought to do the things she wants to do ... she's recently gone back to horse riding ... swimming.. activities we thought had been left in her late teens," her mother said.
Her father said he felt that there were insufficient numbers of staff at the house, that they were insufficiently trained, and that was detrimental to his daughter's care.
"The clients themselves were not compatible, in my opinion," he said.
Sophie's mother said at times, it was clear to her that her daughter's personal care was not being attended to. That she would sometimes see her daughter and see that she had not been properly bathed, or clothes, and that she sometimes wasn't wearing her hearing aids because the staff had not, or claimed to not know how to charge them. She also told the commission more attention must be paid to behavioural support plans.
"There isn't any point in having a behaviour plan made up if the staff aren't going to follow it," she said.
"The staff that were in that house would tell you they don't have time for that ... because all their time is taken up with the two high needs adults in the house. Well, that's a copy out, not on the staff's part, but that's not good enough. You know, they were providing the care for four adults with disabilities and they should have had all their needs met."
The hearing continues.
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