These Policies and Procedures have been developed in order to ensure the protection and the rights of our members and employees. They are intended to give members and employees clear procedural guidelines in identifying and reporting abuse and harassment.
These policies and procedures apply to all employees as well as to all directors, officers, students and volunteers. It applies to discrimination, harassment or abuse, which may occur during the course of VITA’s business, activities and/or events.
Anyone in a position of authority, responsibility, supervision, control or management who knows or ought reasonably to know that a person has experienced or is experiencing discrimination, harassment or abuse is required to take reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination, harassment or abuse as described in the process outlined herein.
VITA encourages the prompt reporting of all incidents of harassment and abuse, regardless of who the respondent may be.
It is the policy of VITA that every member can expect to share, live and participate in a safe environment in which all members are treated with respect and dignity. All members will be provided with an environment free of harassment and abuse and will be protected from any form of harassment or abuse including discriminatory harassment based on age, gender, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, or family status.
VITA recognizes that people with disabilities need to be safe in care. The first and primary goal that all services must have regarding people in care is the provision of a safe environment, with staff who support without control, with policies that place “freedom from harm” as a priority for the organization.
There will be zero tolerance for harassment or abuse at VITA and any employee who abuses a member WILL BE DISMISSED.
This policy also includes sexual harassment and gender based harassment, both of which forms of discrimination are based on sex and are prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
VITA will not accept a hostile or poisoned environment. This may be defined as an atmosphere in which there is behaviour, language, audio or visual material or treatment of individuals, which undermines their personal power, creates personal discomfort or jeopardizes their aspirations to achieve their personal goals.
VITA will act quickly on any complaint of harassment and/or abuse, brought to its attention, with the goal of resolving the situation fairly and of preventing future occurrences.
VITA will be pro-active in ensuring that its members and employees are aware of their rights and obligations as outlined in this policy. VITA is committed to the education of all its members and employees in the area of harassment and abuse.
Nothing in this policy shall be construed as removing any statutory rights or obligations.
CONFIDENTIALITY & PRIVACY:
VITA understands that it can be extremely difficult to come forward with a complaint of harassment or abuse and that it can be devastating to be wrongly convicted of harassment or abuse. VITA recognizes the interests of both the complainant and the respondent in keeping the matter confidential.
Confidentiality will be maintained throughout the investigatory process to the extent practicable and appropriate under the circumstances. All records, notes and files will be kept confidential except where disclosure is required by a disciplinary or other remedial process, or as is required by law.
Confidentiality will also be maintained as the jurisdiction of any individual making an allegation that needs to be investigated. Outside the reporting to police, they will have control in determining who is told within their family and friend circle. If they are their own guardian, then family will only be informed if the individual gives permission for that information to be shared. If the individual is not their own guardian, the guardian must be informed – in this case the individual will be informed that the guardian is being told but consent will not be asked for this to be done.
An individual with a disability, like any citizen, has reasonable expectations of privacy. In reference to sexual offenses or being a victim of a sexual offense a provision of the Criminal Code, specifically section 278.1 to 278.91 makes it clear that the agency’s records regarding an individual are made with the member’s expectation of privacy. These documents cannot be released unless there has been a court procedure that required them to be released or if the individual has given permission for them to be so released. The Criminal Code also has provisions which strictly limit evidence of a victim’s sexual history.
Comments, conduct, or gestures that are insulting, intimidating, humiliating, malicious, degrading, offensive, or discriminatory, directed toward an individual or group of individuals.
2. Sexual Harassment
Comments or conduct of a sexual nature undertaken with the intent of causing offence or humiliation. It is important to recognize that people with disabilities do not choose to live within care and cannot often choose to leave care, the atmosphere of respect that comes from purposefully avoiding jokes or language that others might find distressing is important to foster.
The unwarranted and/or inappropriate use of physical force, psychological stress or sexual involvement, or any unwarranted inappropriate act of omission, by employees interacting with members and includes action, which leaves no physical scars, but results in emotional damage.
4. Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is the unwanted touching of a person’s sexual body parts. The lack of consent is the defining feature. Here it is important to note that the hierarchy makes it impossible for there to be consent between a person with a disability and their care provider.
5. Physical Abuse
Acts of assault or threats of assault, such as hitting, slapping, and burning that cause or could cause physical injury or fear of physical injury. An intellectual or physical disability often results in a need for people to be physically close to provide personal assistance. Physical abuse is more terrifying for those who cannot, physically, flee or escape.
6. Verbal Abuse
Demeaning language, name-calling or negative verbal depictions of disability or attractiveness are all forms of verbal abuse. Words like ‘retard’ or ‘spaz’ cause considerable hurt and are never acceptable.
7. Emotional Abuse
The constant criticism, insulting, threatening, degrading, humiliating, intimidation or terrorizing of a person. Of all the ‘abuses’ this is the most difficult to define. Emotional abuse is the misuse of power, in any way, to cause a person to lose respect for self. Any other form of abuse is also emotional abuse.
8. Financial Abuse
The misuse or misappropriation of someone’ s financial assets for personal gain. It is impossible to ‘borrow’ money from someone who is under your care as the power imbalance makes it difficult for the individual to simply say ‘no’.
9. Spiritual Abuse
The demeaning of another’s faith or the imposition of care providers faith into the life of the person with a disability. Forced religious activity or the denial of religious activity.
The failure to provide the necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, care or supervision. People with disabilities, in care, have a right to expect that their basic needs will be met and they will be provided with the supervision which is appropriate to their age and their developmental and intellectual needs.
Taking advantage of a person’s disability to trick or manipulate for personal benefit. The persuasion to do things that are illegal or not in the individual’s best interest.
MEMBER TO MEMBER ABUSE:
We note that it is entirely possible that the abuse may be occurring between members with disabilities within VITA. Injury may occur to an individual with a disability from another person with a disability in one of two ways. Each way requires a different action taken by the agency:
When an individual with a disability specifically targets another individual and this results in hurt, harm or victimization (see definitions above) of that specific person then it is clear that a criminal act has occurred and the policies outlined below for the reporting of criminal acts are followed.
When an individual in the course of a behavioural outburst accidentally hurts someone or randomly strikes out at those in the environment, the accidental, spontaneous nature of the event makes the action without intent and as such is viewed as a behavioural incident. The clinical team is contacted immediately and the incident is reviewed and a risk reduction plan is put into place. The goal of the risk reduction plan is to reduce the risk that any further harm will come to anyone as a result of a behavioural outburst. Each VITA program where someone who has behavioural challenges resides has the risk reduction strategies implemented in order to keep everyone safe.
Within 48 hours of hire, all new staff will be given the policy on how to respond to a complaint of abuse:
- Supervisors will go over the policy and take questions
- Staff will be encouraged to ask questions
- Supervisors will have staff sign and date a form indicating that they have reviewed the policy
Within 3 months of hire all new staff will undergo a training lasting at least three hours on abuse and abuse prevention.
- The training will involve a pre and a post test
- Those failing the post test will be required to retake the training at the earliest opportunity
Supervisors/Management will review the policies and protocols on a 6-month basis at regular staff or team meetings
- The training will be documented in team meeting minutes
- Staff who miss the team meeting will be required to set a time for individual talk
Supervisors will be trained, within 48 hours, in how to handle an abuse report. Supervisors will collect information without questioning the staff or doing an investigation. Agency investigation will begin after police investigation and conclusion.
Upon admission, all people with disabilities in care will:
- Undergo some form of abuse prevention training every six to eight months while in care.
- Will be offered the opportunity to take sex education /relationship training classes through the agency.
- Will be offered the opportunity to attend or belong to a self-advocate group.
HANDLING A REPORT: STAFF
- Staff receiving the report or witnessing abuse will notify the police immediately
- If the staff believes that the person is at imminent risk, he/she will immediately inform the police of possible danger
- Staff receiving the report will notify their supervisor only after contacting the police
- Staff when receiving the report, will not ask leading questions or attempt to do an investigation
- Staff will ask for guidance from supervisor regarding the safety of the individual making the allegation
- Staff will follow through to ensure that the individual is not placed at risk
- Staff will not discuss the allegation with supervisor (beyond the basics of the report) or with other staff (at all) until they have been interviewed by the police
- Staff will fully document the allegation once the phone call has been made
- Staff will document both the member’s allegation and their own questions
HANDLING A REPORT: SUPERVISORS
Supervisors will be trained, within 48 hours, in how to handle an abuse report.
Supervisors will collect information without questioning the staff or doing an investigation. Agency investigation will begin after police investigation and conclusion.
- Supervisors will immediately suspend the alleged abuser, with pay, for the period of the investigation.
- Upon completion of police investigation, supervisor and HR will meet with alleged abuser.
- Meeting will take place only at the head office. Supervisor/HR will document the content of the discussion with the alleged abuser.
- Supervisor will meet with the staff member who took the initial report to ensure that the staff is feeling supported and offer counselling services if necessary.
Supervisor will ensure that the reporting staff is not subject to:
- Workplace harassment;
HANDLING A REPORT: AGENCY
- The agency will follow through with the Ministry’s guidelines for reporting abuse to them
- The agency will communicate, through training and orientation, that all reported abuse will be reported
- The agency will support staff through the process of reporting abuse by:
- Ensuring that training on abuse happens on a regular basis
- Ensuring that abuse policies and reporting protocols are regularly reviewed
- Ensuring that staff who report abuse are not subject to peer or supervisor ostracism or punishment
- The agency will review the abuse reporting procedure at board level once yearly
- The agency will develop a relationship with the local police force to discuss any issues of concerns or support
FALSE ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE BY A MEMBER
Once a member has been determined, through a police investigation, to have made a series of false allegations a different process will be utilized. An individualized protocol approved by the Executive Director will be implemented.
The protocol will include the following:
First, when a new allegation is made, there will be a brief investigation (within an hour) to determine if the abuse alleged could possibly have happened. If the investigation finds out that the allegation is not possible (i.e. staff not on duty at time; an independent staff had eyes on during the time or on the location of where the abuse was alleged to have occurred) then the allegation will be seen as a behaviour issue not an allegation and the individual will receive behaviour programming regarding appropriate ways to deal with situations. If the investigation finds that the abuse could have happened, the police will be called.
In NO WAY will the actual event be investigated – the investigation will focus on the situation only. The individual or individual accused will not be questioned. The finding of the brief situational review will be immediately reported to the Executive or Program Director. The final decision regarding calling the police will rest with the Director or the Executive Director upon receiving the ‘situational review or assessment of possibility’.
APPROPRIATE RESPONSE/DISCIPLINARY ACTION:
After thorough investigations have been completed and if it is determined that a staff has been engaged in inappropriate misconduct, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken immediately. Using VITA’s established procedures and to fulfill its obligations under the law which is to promote a workplace that is free from harassment and abuse, VITA will determine the appropriate actions to be taken which may rang from counselling to termination of employment.
If during the investigation it is determined that abuse has not occurred all documentation of the evidence shall be given to the Executive Director and no such documentation or allegations of abuse will be placed in the employees personnel file.
This policy will be reviewed annually by management.
Any employee who abuses a member (in accordance with the enclosed policy) WILL BE DISMISSED.