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SA disability advocacy group named

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Uniting Communities has been appointed as the advocacy service for vulnerable South Australians living with disability, following a number of recommendations made by a disability safeguarding taskforce set up following the death of Adelaide woman Ann-Marie Smith.

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The advocacy service was one of seven recommendations and 14 key safeguarding gaps found by the disability safeguarding task force in the wake of Smith’s death in April.

Smith lived with cerebral palsy and died in hospital from septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores and malnourishment while under the care of the National Disability Insurance Scheme administered non-government organisation, Integrity Care SA.

She had been assigned a single paid carer to work seven days a week, but police said that the 54-year-old had spent months in a chair.

The paid carer was later charged with manslaughter.

Smith had previously been a client of state-run Disability SA, but was transferred to the federal NDIS in 2018, with the state no longer responsible for monitoring or oversight of Commonwealth clients, sparking debate about the state’s Community Visitor scheme and access to NDIS clients at home.

In May, the State Government set up the taskforce, led by disability advocates David Caudrey and Kelly Vincent, to examine and provide recommendations regarding the gaps in oversight and safeguarding for people living with profound disability in South Australia.

In July, it recommended that the state government invest in individual advocacy to assist individuals with accessing what they need from the NDIS and from the community.

The call for a disability advocacy service went out to tender in September.

SA Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink said the new statewide advocacy service would receive $1.2 million over three years and would start operating in December.

“This critical service will be available this month and will provide legal representation for people to challenge NDIS decisions, as well as educating and empowering people with disability to advocate for themselves,” Lensink said.

“The NDIS can be challenging to navigate and this advocacy program will help South Australians who are struggling to get the support they need.”

Not-for-profit organisation Uniting Communities already provides support services to individuals and communities across South Australia in areas including mental health, aged care and disability services.

Lensink said the new service would support people “as the NDIS evolves”.

“This is the first-time individual advocacy funding has been provided by the State Government since 2007, when the former Labor Government defunded it as a cost saving measure,” she said.

“We are committed to continuing to do everything we can to address the barriers facing people with disability.”

While SA Shadow Minister for Human Services Nat Cook welcomed the investment in advocacy services for people living with disabilities, she questioned Uniting Communities’ ability to remain independent.

“Independence in disability safeguarding is imperative, and whilst I congratulate Uniting Communities successful bid and recognise they are a highly regarded provider of disability services – I question the potential risk for conflict of interest, in having only one provider,” Cook said.

“It’s unfortunate that the non-government sector had less than four weeks to put their tenders together, and the Government proceeded to sit on its hands for months before selecting and announcing the successful bidder.”

The taskforce also recommended additional funding to continue the work of the Disability Advocate David Caudrey and expanding the Adult Safeguarding Unit to include vulnerable adults of any age.

The state government said it had actioned or completed the seven recommendations.

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