New guide on "challenging behaviour" released for government bodies

Local governments should adopt a four-staged “graduated response” to dealing with abusive behaviour from members of the public, according to a new guide released by the Victoria’s Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, says her office is constantly asked for advice from government departments, agencies and local councils on what to do with overly persistent or abusive people.

“The public sector exists to serve the public including those who may be demanding. But public sector resources are limited, and agencies need to protect the health and safety of their workforce,” she said.

The Good Practice Guide to Dealing with Challenging Behaviour has been released to help create better understanding between government bodies and the public.

“I hope the guide helps to defuse, de-escalate and demystify the behaviours that public servants encounter daily, and that greater understanding leads to fewer complaints,” Ms Glass said.

The guide recommends a graduated four-stage response:

  • preventing challenging behaviour where possible through good complaint handling

  • de-escalating challenging behaviour in the first instance

  • managing behaviour where it raises health, safety, resource or equity issues

  • limiting access as a last resort, in a “lawful, fair and transparent” way.

The resource contains practical tips and examples to help complaint handlers at each stage, and a model policy to guide leaders and managers.

There is specific advice about dealing with challenging behaviour that may be associated with a disability or mental illness, and responding to people who raise concerns about suicide.

“The guide stresses that people who handle complaints in the public sector are human too. It provides practical advice for complaint handlers about looking after themselves, and for managers about taking care of their staff,” according to the resource.

The guide builds on the Managing Unreasonable Conduct by Complainants Practice Manual that was first developed by parliamentary ombudsmen in Australia and New Zealand in 2007 and also takes account of international literature on deescalating conflict.

The information in the guide was reviewed by a psychologist with experience in government complaint handling and investigations.

The guide also drew on the expertise of bodies including the Disability Services Commissioner, the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate.

Ms Glass says her office will also be offering education workshops for public sector organisations on dealing with challenging behaviour.

“The workshops will help complaint handlers put the guide’s advice into practice.”

The guide is available here.

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