Community Organisations in a Climate of Change

By: Melanie Lewis, Executive General Manager Client Services, State Trustees Australia Foundation

With the aged care, mental health and disability sectors about to undergo widespread and significant change through the introduction of consumer directed care reforms such as the NDIS, ensuring the most vulnerable members of society are informed and cared for at all times should be of paramount concern for community organisations involved in this transition.

We need to understand the implications associated with introducing client choice and how community organisations can best work to aid the transition to an NDIS.

On Tuesday 29 September, I attended The Community Organisations in a Climate of Change forum on behalf of the State Trustees Australia Foundation (STAF), where these exact issues were discussed. More than 150 people attended the event including those with a disability or mental health needs, advocates and the community organisations who work alongside them.

The forum, hosted by the Ageing, Disability and Mental Health (ADMH) Collaborative Panel, brought together Victorian industry leaders from the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Council on the Ageing Victoria, Carers Victoria, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, National Disability Services Victoria, Psychiatric Disability Services of Victoria Inc, and Victorian Council of Social Service.

A number of significant trends emerged from the forum, most notably the move to consumer focused services. These services have the potential to increase choice, control and flexibility for consumers while also breaking down barriers and stigma. Consumers present at the event spoke of wanting services that listen to them and understand each individual’s different challenges and desires.

However, there are risks for individuals and organisations including markets failing to provide adequate choice (particularly in regional or remote communities) and organisations failing to provide the appropriate levels of support. It is also unclear what supports will be available for some people with mental illness and for carers.

In fact, one panellist spoke of her challenges transitioning from a state-funded Individual Support Package to the NDIS, where her service entitlement was cut. She was forced to go through a lengthy administrative/legal battle to secure her care needs. Her story emphasised the importance of ensuring there are advocacy services available throughout the transition process.

The issue of workforce retention and support was identified as another area to monitor, with all panellists and service providers agreeing that a skilled and supportive workforce is essential to assist through the NDIS and aged care reforms. Many organisations will be reliant on the capacity of service providers to adapt to the new frameworks and have a responsive workforce available to meet the predicted increase in demand for services.

How aged care reform will affect Victoria’s older people also remains to be seen. What I did learn was that Victorian organisations must advocate to protect our already strong Home and Community Care (HACC) program and various other aged care systems, as we move to a nationally consistent program. This will ensure those affected are appropriately transitioned with adequate support.

It was also made clear through the panel discussions that the needs of distinct communities such as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities (CALD) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must also be considered throughout the transition. This is essential, as small providers who currently cater to these communities could be challenged by the move to NDIS and the entry of new competitors.

Overall, the forum was a success with many issues discussed and debated throughout the day by those in attendance. It was an honour to have hosted the final Q&A session of the day, and a wonderful opportunity to remain engaged with my counterparts within the sector. 

About the ADMH Collaborative Panel

The ADMH Collaborative Panel is made possible through the support of the State Trustees Australia Foundation, and continually works to identify opportunities for cross-sector dialogue, collaboration and capacity building to help individuals, service providers and other community sector organisations adjust to major ageing, disability and mental health sector reforms. Find out more here.

At the forum, the Collaborative Panel on Ageing, Disability and Mental Health provided an overview of its future projects including:

  • Communities of Practice, to share learnings between local service systems
  • Analysis of Good Practice Case Studies, to identify and profile the core elements associated with the delivery of best practice models
  • Consumer Led Service Delivery Training, to support service providers to adopt consumer led services that enable consumer choice
  • Cross Sector Learning and Development, a feasibility assessment and development of a resource to disseminate and share information and resources across the sector
  • A project focussing on the HACC changes, in development. 

Nov. 10, 2015

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