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Information for vulnerable adults and their carers

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Vulnerable adults

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 adults” and include people 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 investigations into alleged misconduct and abuse

Any allegation of misconduct or abusive conduct towards a vulnerable adult is distressing. However, the Diocese recognises that adults are able to make choices, even those that appear to be against their best interests. If the vulnerable adult is competent to self-determine their own living circumstances, medical and personal care, the Diocese will respect the person’s choices.

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

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 adult’s choice

The investigator will contact the vulnerable adult or 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 adult of OoSG’s role in conducting investigations
  • advise the vulnerable adult of their possible role in the investigation (as alleged victim or witness)
  • advise the vulnerable adult the investigation is strictly confidential and it should only be discussed with their “person responsible”
  • ask the vulnerable adult if they agree to participate in the investigation.

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

If the vulnerable adult chooses to participate in the investigation, arrangements will be made to have a face-to-face interview at a time and place that takes into account any special considerations. Participating in a formal interview can be stressful. The vulnerable adult is encouraged to have a support person with them. The support person should be someone with whom the vulnerable adult feels comfortable, trusts and has demonstrated their ability to maintain confidences.  Where a guardian has been appointed, the guardian or empowered representative must be present at the interview. Where the vulnerable adult has a responsible person, the investigator will use all reasonable means to have the responsible person present for the interview.

Where the vulnerable adult is able to give informed consent, the interview will be audio recorded.  The audio recording will be transcribed into a written record of interview, a copy of which will be posted to the vulnerable adult or guardian or responsible person (where more appropriate).  If the written word poses challenges for the vulnerable adult, the investigator will explore reasonable adjustments. The vulnerable adult, guardian or responsible person has an opportunity to review the record of interview and submit any corrections, clarifications and further written comments they believe appropriate. The vulnerable adult 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 adult about the investigation

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

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

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

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

Once an investigator has interviewed a witness and their evidence has been finalised, the role of the vulnerable adult witness in the investigation is complete. The vulnerable adult will be advised when the investigation has been completed, but they will not be given information in relation to findings or outcomes.

A vulnerable adult is protected during and after the investigation

The Diocese is committed to promoting safety, wellbeing and respect for vulnerable adults.

With the vulnerable adult’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 adult is afforded added consideration and support.

Counselling can be made available if the process makes the vulnerable adult anxious or distressed. Reasonable costs will be borne by OoSG.

Any allegation a diocesan worker is targeting or discriminating against a vulnerable adult because they reported allegations of misconduct or because of their participation in an investigation is taken very seriously, and OoSG will investigate. If it is established a diocesan worker has been a party to such discrimination, they are at risk of serious disciplinary action.

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