Disability Royal Commission advocacy and counselling supports

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, or the Disability Royal Commission, was established in April 2019. The Disability Royal Commission is expected to run until 2022 and will investigate and report on the experiences of people with disability in settings like schools, workplaces, group homes and hospitals.

Recognising that the work of the Disability Royal Commission and the stories and experiences being shared could be traumatic, even for those people not engaging with the Commission, funded was provided for a range of services and supports for people with disability who are engaging with or have been affected by the Disability Royal Commission.

Two of those supports are advocacy supports provided by DANA, the Disability Advocacy Network Australia and the National Counselling and Referral Service, delivered by Blue Knot Foundation.

Inform spoke with Mary Mallett, CEO of DANA and Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of Blue Knot Foundation about these two services.

Advocates provide support to tell your story

A Royal Commission is a very big formal legal process,” Mary Mallett explained. “And people can be quite frightened by that. So that can be overwhelming. But also, they can be very unclear about the processes involved, these formal sort of legal processes.”

Mary says that this is where the advocacy support coordinated by DANA can help.

“So… the advocate being that single point of contact to assist someone to talk through their story, write it up, and then source that legal support or the counselling… if necessary, that that helps the person be able to go through with the whole, whole process.”

Mary says that while there are plenty of people with disability who don’t need assistance or support to make a submission to the Disability Royal Commission, the advocates are there to help those who do need that support.

“For some people with disability, what they have is… in their head, they have a jumble of the things, the bad things that have happened to them. And especially when serious traumatic events have happened to people, they don’t have it neatly in their head as a chronological sort of ordered recount of things.

“So, what an advocate can do is meet with the person, listen to them, help them sort of frame their story in a way that, that also gets to the heart of what the problem is. Because sometimes some people with disability have had so many bad experiences that, that they’re not even quite aware of which ones are the worst ones or the most important ones.

“Advocates will help people to tease some of that stuff out so, it’s not about the advocates telling people what to do or that this is how you need to tell your story to the Royal Commission. It’s just, it’s supporting people so that they’re happy with the process.”

A voice for the often voiceless

In addition to providing support to prepare you submission for the Royal Commission, advocates can also link you with other supports including Auslan interpreters or language interpreters. Advocates can also link you to legal support through Your Story Legal Support. Mary says this can be particularly useful if you’re thinking of naming a person or organisation in your submission.

“Some of the people that advocates work with are people who are and have been very voiceless… their views not listened to or heard in the past. And so that’s the advocates role is to bring a bit more balance into the power imbalance that exists there where people with disability traditionally, and typically often have things done to them, and by other people, but without their voice or choices being heard.”

Woman in counselling session

National Counselling and Referral Service provides emotional support

“It’s called people’s stories, but it’s not people’s stories, it’s people’s lives,” says Dr Cathy Kezelman, President of Blue Knot Foundation.

Blue Knot Foundation is an organisation that works with adults who’ve experienced repeated trauma. The Foundation provides a number of services, including the National Counselling and Referral Service for people with disability.

“So, in the first instance, we provide counselling which really is, you know, emotional support,” Dr Kezelman says. “And when someone has engaged with the Royal Commission, and it’s a Royal Commission that’s looking into trauma, so that means that often people will be revisiting their traumatic experiences, either from the past, or currently. And obviously, that brings up a whole lot of not just memories, and experiences, but, but emotional ups and downs.”

Dr Kezelman says that the National Counselling and Referral Service is there to walk alongside someone during the process of engaging with the Royal Commission but to also provide strategies for them deal with what is a challenging process.

“It takes a lot of courage to come forward and speak up and out about what’s happened to you, and traumatic experiences that have really often profoundly affected your life. And so, it’s very important to have someone who can, can listen and be there with you.”

Like advocacy support, the National Counselling and Referral Service can also provide referrals to other supports connected with the Royal Commission including Your Story legal Support. By the National Counselling and Referral Service can also provide referrals to other services, including financial counselling or practical supports for people with disability.

Dr Kezelman says the National Counselling and Referral Service can help people with disability with the “many, many things we as human beings often take for granted but can be quite difficult”.

Counselling available to all

The National Counselling and Referral Service, provides free, independent and confidential counselling to support people with disability, their family members, advocates and support workers. While the service was originally established to support people making submissions to the Royal Commission that has changed. You don’t have to have engaged with the Disability Royal Commission or have made a submission to use the service.

“Originally, it was set up to support people engaging with the Disability Royal Commission. But it’s now a much broader scope. And certainly, we find that we’re able to support people with lots of different needs in the community and we’re very keen to continue to do that.”

Dr Kezelman says that this broadening of the scope of the National Counselling and Referral Service was needed. Because the reality is that even if you haven’t engaged with the Royal Commission directly, you might still be struggling with the conversations that are being had in the media or in your communities and you might just need someone to talk to.

“We also know that sadly many people in the community experience the sorts of trauma we’re talking about. And people with disability are definitely not immune to that and have experienced additional barriers to support. And it’s very important that they’re able to access emotional support to talk to someone who can listen, deeply listen to what they need, meet them, sort of in the present, and find out how to help.”

How to access advocacy and counselling supports

You can contact the National Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468. You can also reach the National Counselling and Referral Service via the National Relay Service on 133 677. There’s also a free Translating and Interpreting Service which you can access by either calling the National Counselling and Referral Service and asking for an interpreter or calling the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 and asking to be connected to National Counselling and Referral Service.

To speak with an advocate, you can contact your local or state-based advocacy services. You can also contact the National Counselling and Referral Service and ask for a referral. Or you can contact the Disability Royal Commission directly on 1800 517 199 and request a referral for advocacy support to tell your story.

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