Freddie Brincat OAM – Riding the NDIS Wave

At CBS Inc. we are riding the NDIS wave. At this stage, we aren’t quite hanging ten in these turbulent waters, but we are still on the surfboard.
Everyone’s adjusting to the NDIS and some faster than others. I wanted to share a few observations with you. Firstly at this stage CBS Inc. has been adapting pretty well to the NDIS as our services have always noted the need to run efficiently in terms of required management and controlling costs in key areas. Our constant review of balancing our focus between our core values and culture, with business and finance has been another key to our adjustment. We believe that growth for growth sake will sooner or later have a negative impact on service quality and on active listening to people with a disability and their families.

I was reading an article in the Financial Review August 2018 Magazine titled “Willing & Able” by Fiona Carruthers. It was written from the perspective of some of the key players in the establishment of the NDIS. Those interviewed all experienced disability either within their families, or personally. All are well educated and successful business people with significant wealth, networks and motivation. Without such skill and energy, the NDIS may not have been established.

The focus on human rights and choice and control are key elements to the scheme, but it is clear that from the beginning a competitive, market driven model is the perceived most efficient approach to find innovative solutions. This is where the challenge is for all people employed, or doing business in providing services to people with a disability and their families. We have to be careful that competition, growth, economic greed and power over people with a disability does not corrupt the key core values behind the NDIS. If people with a disability and their families are seen as a commodity from which the key purpose of the interaction is to make money, then, like so many other competitive economic environments, the NDIS could create major social challenges that have not been planned in a so called efficient market driven NDIS economy.

Having worked in institutional settings in the 1980s and large “Day Options” services, I know something about such services and I can tell you that some providers are seeing the NDIS as an opportunity to either continue such services and, in some cases, expand them. This is a move back to an institutional approach where larger numbers of people with a disability are placed together in segregated settings both in housing, and in false recreational settings. Why?

A market response would possibly be that as the market, or in this case, people with a disability, become more experienced and savvy with their research and decisions, such services might be selected out of the market. But what if such services continue to grow in the drive for profit, because it is a current market response, and what if they are able to squeeze other providers out of the market with flashy advertising and big promises before the ‘market finds its natural balance’?

I am observing that if you were born into a family with parents who have pretty good jobs, you are likely to have a better understanding of how to plan, how to research and know what you need and want and most importantly, how to negotiate both with the NDIA planners and with service providers. It’s not just about getting a good plan either. Spending the plan on suitable supports is a mine field. Participants are faced with a sea of potential services. Each one requires separate meetings and negotiations. This can mean a huge amount of work. For those that elect to be self-managed, be warned, not only will you need to negotiate separate service agreements with every provider at least once a year, you will need to manage every bill and item of correspondence that comes through from each as well. Additionally, those that haven’t spent their plan are at risk of their funding being reduced on plan review. For some people with a disability they have these skills to effectively self-advocate, but I’m not sure of the number of NDIS participants in this situation.

For a current significant proportion of people eligible and in the scheme, their knowledge and experience to obtain a similar outcome will likely be much less. This needs to be noted at a time when planners are still very much learning the system.

So those who are less educated, of lower income and less confident will likely continue to obtain a handicapped deal via the NDIS. Their starting point in the NDIS marathon is likely to be down the track, when really the planning people to support such participants needed to be well trained and educated to help provide a service that places them in a fair position.

Part of the NDIS philosophy is to be prudent with public funds, therefore, all other avenues of support and funding is fully explored and taken advantage of. As a tax payer, this is a logical approach except that people with a disability often play down the impact of their disability. Our understanding is that planners use a type of decision tree where the right answer can make a large difference to the final funding. If a parent answers “yes” to the question like, “Are you able to continue providing supports to your child?” respite funding is likely to be excluded from their child’s package. Another example is where a parent responds to the planners question that their child can put their shoes on independently, what is not explored is that the child ‘can’ do this, but will commonly show a great deal of resistance to putting their shoes on – the devil (and funding) is in the detail of how such questions are asked.

Going back to CBS Inc. our staff have listened carefully to what participants in the NDIS want on an individual basis and then planning and structuring supports to provide this experience. This approach is working as CBS Inc. has many years’ experience providing education and training opportunities for people with a disability in partnership with the experts in the community. This includes school2work supports, recreation, the arts, personal independence, further education and open employment.

Having 29.4% of our 170 employees with a declared disability, at CBS Inc. we want people with a disability to be leaders of their own lives and if wanted, leaders of others with and without a disability. So we want to provide innovative approaches to incorporate NDIS to this goal of personal leadership so that more people can obtain a better education, more training, a good job, a greater range of life experiences including the arts and increased personal control.

Article written by Freddie Brincat OAM & Gabby Jones

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