The Royal Commission on Disability slams the South African Department of Social Services (DHS) for caring for two men

A damning report by the Royal Commission on Disability has revealed that the South African Department of Social Services (DHS) has failed to provide a safe home for two men with autism and intellectual disability.

In June 2021, the royal commission looked at three cases in South Australia – Mitchell*, Daniel Rogers and Ann Marie Smith.

The commission found “inadequate institutional responsibility” on the part of DHS for failing the men.

The report said Mitchell was living in DHS-run housing, but his aunt and uncle grew concerned after they discovered he had injured his foot and been taken to a topless waitress restaurant by a member of staff.

A letter threatened Mitchell’s life

She raised her concerns with DHS, but felt they were never heard. A camera was also installed in Mitchell’s bedroom without the consent of his legal guardians, his Aunt Victoria* and Uncle James*.

“In an email, the Director of Accommodation Services acknowledged that it was inappropriate to install a device capable of filming Mitchell in his unit without notifying James and Victoria or seeking their consent,” the commission said.

“The manager described the failure as a ‘communication breakdown’ and apologized that proper approvals and warranties were not negotiated and documented prior to the installation of the intercom.

“Due to the intercom issue and other issues, the site manager has been moved from the residence. It appears that at least one member of staff felt aggrieved by this change.”

In March 2018, Victoria and James received a letter threatening the life of their 38-year-old nephew, which they reported to DHS and South African police.

The letter also used a pejorative term for Mr Mitchell.

But the commission found that DHS did not take the letter seriously enough, delaying the investigation into the identity of the author.

“DHS has failed in its responsibility to take appropriate action to discover the source of an apparently serious threat to the safety and well-being of a person with disabilities in its care,” the report said.

The report says that since the commission hearings in June 2021, DHS has hired an outside investigator to review the letter and sent the family a formal apology.

The letter writer calls Mitchell a “piglet.” (Provided: Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disabilities. )

The DHS did not investigate the bruises

A man looks at the camera.
Daniel Rogers’ mother says there were bruises on his body while he was in a group home.(Provided: Karen Rogers)

Mr Rogers, 40, had spent most of his life in state government-run group homes, but his mother Karen Rogers grew more concerned about his treatment before he left in 2019.

The commission said his mother found unexplained injuries on her son, insufficient medication for him when he went on holiday, poor grooming and poor personal hygiene and did not know how his money was spent.

The inquest also heard that her bedroom at home had “an air of neglect” with filthy walls and floors.

In February 2019, disabled workers outside DHS discovered that Mr. Rogers had a large bruise on his lower back that appeared to have paint or stain obscuring the injury.

They reported it to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Commission (NDIS).

“DHS has not sought urgent medical advice on the nature and probable cause of Daniel Rogers’ injuries.”

The commission found that Mr Rogers had been neglected by DHS, rejecting state government submissions during the hearings that his treatment was at times “unacceptable” but did not amount to negligence.

DHS also apologized to Mr. Rogers’ family.

The death of Ann Marie Smith has been examined

The commission also considered the response of the South African government and the NDIS since the death of Ann Marie Smith, who suffered prolonged neglect while receiving support from provider Integrity Care.

It has reviewed two reports – one commissioned by the government, the other by the NDIS Commission – since Ms Smith died at her home in Kensington Park in April 2021.

The royal commission identified areas that still needed further investigation, including communication between NDIS providers and people living with disabilities and how services could improve their quality and become more “person-centred”.

“It is not enough for a policy to claim to be people-centred,” the commission said.

“People-centered approaches must be embedded in the daily practices and cultures of all those responsible for service delivery.”

*Michell, Victoria and James preferred the use of pseudonyms

Richard F. Gandhi