Community visitors

Proposal 11–9          The Department of Health (Cth) should develop national guidelines for the community visitors scheme that:

(a)           provide policies and procedures for community visitors to follow if they have concerns about abuse or neglect of care recipients;

(b)           provide policies and procedures for community visitors to refer care recipients to advocacy services or complaints mechanisms where this may assist them; and

(c)           require training of community visitors in these policies and procedures.

11.263         The ‘community visitors scheme’ (CVS) is a scheme in which recipients of both residential and home care, who are socially isolated or at risk of social isolation, are matched with volunteer visitors. Volunteers are coordinated by organisations funded by the Australian Government (auspices).[283] Community visitors are not advocates, and are directed to report any concerns they have about care to their auspicing organisation.[284]

11.264         The CVS provides an important role in reducing social isolation, which may itself be protective against abuse.[285] In 2014–15, community visitors made more than 148,000 visits to residents in aged care homes.[286] The ALRC does not propose any change to the community visitors’ primary function—providing companionship. Nor does it propose that community visitors take on a pro-active role in identifying elder abuse. Instead, in Proposal 11-10, it proposes that an official visitors scheme be established.

11.265         However, the ALRC considers it essential that community visitors have an understanding of the avenues available to care recipients to protect and enforce their rights, as well as procedures for reporting concerns about abuse or neglect. At present, the CVS lacks detailed national guidelines. Auspices are required to develop internal policies relating to the CVS. However, there is limited guidance on what these should contain, including limited guidance about how to respond to concerns about abuse or neglect.[287] The ALRC proposes that national guidelines applying to the CVS should be developed, in place of the current approach that directs auspices to develop their own internal policies for the scheme. The guidelines should set consistent policies and procedures for visitors to follow if they have concerns about abuse or neglect of care recipients; provide policies and procedures for visitors to refer care recipients to advocacy services or complaints mechanisms where this may assist them; and require training of community visitors in these policies and procedures.

[283]       Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) pt 5.6; Department of Social Services (Cth), Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) Policy Guide 2013–2016 (2013).

[284]       Department of Social Services (Cth), Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) Frequently Asked Questions—Auspices.

[285]       See further Kaspiew, Carson and Rhoades, above n 88, 8–9.

[286]       Department of Health (Cth), above n 8, 24.

[287]       Department of Social Services (Cth), above n 285, 4–5.