Two support workers at a National Disability Insurance Scheme accommodation provider allegedly assaulted and verbally abused the residents, while other staff at the home were “segregated” based on race, the disability royal commission has heard.
In one incident, a support worker – who had been fired from a previous job for misconduct – allegedly said words to the effect of: “If it was up to me, I would have shot them all,” while news coverage of the Christchurch shooting was showing on the television.
When another support worker noted one of the residents, known as Carl, was Middle Eastern, the first support worker, known as SP1, is alleged to have replied: “I don’t care.”
The disability royal commission will this week investigate allegations of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in disability services, focusing on a case study at the home run by Sunnyfield Disability Services in western Sydney.
Kate Eastman, senior counsel assisting, said the commission would explore the experiences of adult residents Carl, Melissa and Chen, who had intellectual disabilities and continued to live at the home.
The commission heard that two support workers – known as SP1 and SP2 – were charged with assault over separate incidents involving Carl, Chen and Melissa, which were later dismissed in court due to a lack of evidence.
The commission heard other staff felt allegedly “bullied” by SP1, and claims that support workers at the home were “segregated” on the basis of race.
Chen’s family reported “unexplained bruising on his thigh” around July 2018, while Sunnyfield allegedly attempted to evict Melissa after her sister and legal guardian, Eliza, also made several complaints about staff conduct.
Alleged incidents included an instance in June 2018 when Carl’s mother, Sophia, was told her son had split his eye open in the Sunnyfield van during an outing and needed to be taken to hospital. The commission heard there had been “blood throughout the van” when Carl returned home.
The following day an anonymous complaint made to the NDIS watchdog alleged that SP1 and SP2 pushed and grabbed Carl and Chen and verbally abused them.
“The anonymous complainant alleged SP1 and SP2 had used racist and insensitive language about African and Indian support workers,” Eastman told the hearing.
“It was alleged SP1 told people that he was at a meeting, but in fact he had left the house and had gone fishing, and this had occurred on a regular basis.”
Around the same time, another support worker told Carl’s mother, Sophia, that she was “worried about Carl’s safety” and would not forgive herself if something happened and she had not told anyone, Eastman told the commission.
After the watchdog became involved, the commission heard SP1 and SP2 were suspended by Sunnyfield, with pay. The company handed over evidence to police and launched its own independent investigation.
That investigation, Eastman said, found the “house coordinator has been very good at covering up” his behaviour and the staff felt “intimidated, racially vilified and frightened of this gun-owning coordinator”.
And when Sunnyfield conducted audits of the house, it interviewed only the house coordinator, SP1, the investigation found.
SP1 faced charges including common assault and stalking/intimidation in relation to incidents involving Carl and Chen. He was later charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm for allegedly kicking Chen. The charges were dismissed in court.
SP2 also faced assault charges against the residents, including a charge made after a staff complaint to the watchdog. The charges were also dismissed by a magistrate.
Eastman said Sunnyfield’s independent investigation found several, though not all, of the allegations of abuse or mistreatment against both support workers were either sustained or partially sustained.
A statement tendered to the royal commission by the NSW ombudsman also alleges SP1 had been fired by another service provider for misconduct in 2016.
While the ombudsman drafted a letter that would have informed Sunnyfield about SP1’s alleged conduct, the correspondence was never sent, the commission heard.
Eastman said the ombudsman had provided a statement saying it believed it could not be compelled to appear at the hearing.
The two support workers were eventually dismissed by Sunnyfield in late 2019 and early 2020.
Sunnyfield will give evidence at the royal commission this week. Eastman said the company’s chief executive, Caroline Cuddihy, had said in a statement to the commission that expressed “my regrets and deep sympathy for the pain and distress suffered”.
But Eastman said the families were yet to receive an apology from the company.