Building safe and respectful cultures in disability services: results of a pilot project

Prof. Sally Robinson1, Ms Marianna Codognotto2

1Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, 2Disability Services Commissioner, Melbourne, Australia

Previous research indicates increasing recognition of the significance of violence and abuse against people with intellectual disability. This co-designed pilot project aimed to develop understanding about the role of culture in promoting safety and wellbeing and addressing the conditions that lead to abuse and neglect in disability services. It was completed by a team of academic researchers, staff from the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner and Community Researchers with intellectual disability and acquired brain injury.

Using a mixed methods approach, 70 people with disability, staff and families from three accommodation and community participation services took part in interviews; information and music workshops; observation of routine interactions; and completed surveys on supervision and occupational stress.

A series of factors influenced organisational cultures of safety and respect. While there were elements that both helped and hindered the development of safe and respectful cultures, perhaps the most striking finding is how complex many of the features are. Cross-cutting themes concerned the feelings shared by people at all levels that it was very difficult to make change; practice approaches to actively build safe and respectful cultures; increased risk from rising pressure on resources and efficiency in service delivery; and the need to bring multiple sets of rights into view in order to promote people’s safety and wellbeing.

Implications for action focus on increasing opportunity for people with disability, building relationships of support, investing in systems, and addressing structural complexity.


Sally Robinson is Professor of Disability and Community Inclusion at Flinders University.

Marianna Codognotto is Senior Learning and Development Officer at the Victorian Disability Services Commissioners Office.

This paper is about a project they contributed to, along with a large team. The co-design approach aimed to include people with intellectual disability in sensitive research to inform policy and practice.

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