Impact of Afford’s rapid growth on safety and quality to be examined by Royal Commission

In a five-day hearing commencing on Monday 16 May, the Royal Commission will examine the role and responsibilities of the Australian Foundation for Disability (Afford) to safeguard participants in their day programs from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Senior Counsel Assisting, Mr Patrick Griffin SC, will be examining how staffing, management and charges for NDIS participants impacted the safety and quality of care for people with disability by the rapidly growing service provider.

According to Afford’s annual reports, in 2020-2021 it supported over 6,000 clients with disability and had an annual revenue of $145.6 million. In contrast, in 2016-2017, it supported 898 clients and had an annual revenue of $51.8 million.

The not-for-profit organisation operates predominantly in New South Wales but has recently expanded to provide services in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Public hearing 23 will focus on the experiences of people with disability who participated in a day program provided by Afford in Western Sydney, from 2018 to 2021. The Royal Commission will hear from several witnesses about the abuse experienced, including by a former Afford support worker, who recorded and shared intimate images of day program participants without their consent. Afford executives will be asked to explain the measures taken to prevent and respond to abuse at day programs.

The death of 20-year-old Merna Aprem, who passed away on 23 May 2019 in supported accommodation provided by Afford, will be acknowledged during the hearing. This matter is subject to an ongoing coronial inquiry and litigation before the Federal Court, and consequently will not be the primary focus of this hearing.

The Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC, will preside over the hearing at the International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney and will be joined by Commissioners Alistair McEwin AM and Barbara Bennett PSM. The hearing will be open to the media and general public and will be live streamed on the homepage of the Royal Commission website.

Journalists wishing to cover the hearing should notify the Disability Royal Commission media team to ensure access to relevant information and material, including schedules and live transcripts.

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