Community Guardianship: OPA information

The Office of the Public Advocate recruits, trains and supports volunteers who are appointed as community guardians to act in the best interests of a person in need of a guardian.
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In most cases, people with decision-making disabilities in Western Australia have family or friends to make decisions in their best interests. Community guardians fulfil a similar role for those who have no-one suitable in their lives to advocate for their rights or make decisions on their behalf.

Western Australia was the first state to appoint volunteers as guardians for people with a decision-making disability.  Since its launch in 2005, the Community Guardianship program has made a profound difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, matching adults who currently have the Public Advocate appointed as their guardian, with volunteers from the community who are willing and able to take over the guardianship role.

How does it work

The role of a community guardian is unique in terms of the long-term commitment and responsibility a volunteer community guardian takes on. The Office of the Public Advocate provides training for community volunteers before matching them with a suitable client over a period of months. When a relationship has been established and shown to be successful for 6-12 months, the Public Advocate makes an application to the State Administrative Tribunal for the volunteer to be appointed the person's guardian.

The community guardian makes informed decisions in the person's best interests. Decisions may relate to consenting to medical treatment or dental work, improving the person's lifestyle and well-being and meeting their accommodation and support needs. Community guardians do not have the authority to control a person's finances.

All volunteers receive ongoing support through training, social events and a newsletter. They can call the Office of the Public Advocate for additional advice if needed.

Becoming a community guardian

Community guardians are people who:

  • believe in the potential of people with disabilities
  • are prepared to advocate for the rights of people with decision-making disabilities
  • have critical thinking and problem-solving abilities
  • can act in the best interests of people with decision-making disabilities.

It is preferred that volunteers have had some professional or personal experience with a person with a decision-making disability, but this is not a prerequisite.

Community guardians come from all walks of life and many professions, including health care, teaching or other service sectors. Every effort is made to match the represented person with a guardian who lives in their local area.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer community guardian for a Western Australian with a decision-making disability should email the Office of the Public Advocate.

Case study - Making a difference

D has an intellectual disability and lives in a group home in Perth.  He has not had contact from family members for many years.  D needs a guardian to consent to medical treatment on his behalf.

A Community Guardianship Program volunteer was introduced to D and his carers and since then, the volunteer has been visiting D fortnightly at his home and occasionally in the community with carers where D enjoys gardening and going out for coffee.

The volunteer has taken time to get to know D and his carers, while keeping in regular contact with the Community Guardianship Program Co-ordinator at the Office of the Public Advocate.

D seems to enjoy the volunteer's visits.  When asked his opinion about his guardian, he smiles and says he likes him.

A meeting was held with D's carers to review the match between D and the volunteer.  There was a consensus that the match was progressing well and that it was appropriate for the Public Advocate to lodge an application with the State Administrative Tribunal for the volunteer to be appointed as D's guardian.

The volunteer wrote a letter to the Tribunal outlining the reasons he was suitable and willing to be appointed as D's guardian and the Public Advocate lodged a detailed report as well.

A three-member Tribunal heard the application and determined that the guardianship order appointing the Public Advocate be revoked and that a new order appointing the volunteer to make medical treatment decisions for D for 12 months be made.

* Note: Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

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