rights of clientsThe Federal Government’s aged care reforms package, that has been rolling out since 2010, has followed a Human Rights approach. There is a strong push for the promotion of a ‘person-centred’ decision making process and respect for the dignity of older people. The Australian Government’s new portal for people wanting to access aged care support – ‘My Aged Care’ – emphasises the rights and responsibilities of clients. The site states:

‘You have a right to be looked after properly, treated well and given high-quality care and services. To make sure you get the best care, all service providers have responsibilities and must meet certain standards.’

It goes on to list the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities for Home Care as well as the Home Care Standards that apply to those receiving support from Home and Community Care (HACC) services in Victoria and Western Australia.

Why do we have a charter and where did it come from? Doesn’t everyone know how to provide quality care?

In recent history (from the Industrial Age onwards), older people or those with a disability were undervalued, unless they held a certain status in society. They were placed in institutions that removed these ‘burdens' from the rest of society. Think what the conditions must have been in the old workhouses for the poor and the infirm.

Residential aged care facilities were introduced to move the frail aged out of hospitals and from the homes of a generation where the norm became the average family: mum, dad and the children. There was no room for Granny or Grandpa as home sizes changed and the demand for a room for each child developed. Even if there was room, with both parents in the workforce there was no one to care for the grandparents. Granny couldn’t live at home by herself either.

Many of the early residential homes were run along the lines of a private hospital, with little privacy for residents and basic food. There was little choice and many older people suffered the indignity of having their rights to choice and independence stripped from them once they walked through the door of the facility.

caring for eldersHowever, we now live in a society where all of us, regardless of age or infirmity, have rights as citizens and individuals. It is important to recognise that these rights do not diminish as we age. The Charter arises from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Take the time to read this document – it’s well worth it. You can find a copy of it here.

Sometimes, the rights of an individual are compromised by well-meaning people, such as family members, care staff and health professionals. Sometimes, the rights of a person are unconsciously violated by services or by staff members who are trying to do what they think is the correct thing. To protect the rights of clients, all organisations should be making their staff aware of the client’s rights, as well as ensuring all clients are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

If you believe a client’s rights are not being upheld, there are advocacy organisations in every state and territory who can assist.

Over the years of work in remote communities, we have found that clients and staff from a Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) sometimes have difficulty reading and interpreting the standard presentation of the Rights and Responsibilities. We discussed this problem with clients and staff in some of the communities we work with and have developed a pictorial, plain English version. Coordinators have found that these are well received and easier for local people to understand. This version may also be of interest to other NESB client groups.

Other great resources:

The Australian Human Rights Commission; A human rights approach for ageing and health – The Aged Care reforms and human rights:


Universal Declaration of Human Rights: www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

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