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NDIS - How is it going so far?

Catholic Social Services Victoria, together with the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) hosted an National Disability Services Insurance (NDIS) Evaluation Workshop on 17 January 2019. The BSL, as providers of NDIS Local Area Coordination (LAC) and the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) gateway program, initiated the evaluation to hear directly from stakeholders about their experience of the scheme. Eleven participants attended the workshop and provided their invaluable reflections and insights.
The NDIS has been progressively rolled out across Victoria since 2013. It has had a massive impact on families and individuals and on many organisations in the health, welfare, education and the community sectors. So how is NDIS travelling? How well is it working? It is important to regularly take stock of the system to ensure it meets the needs and aspirations of individuals and the expectations of the community.
Amanda Pagan and James Finnis from the BSL Research and Policy Centre conducted the workshop, guiding the conversation through topics that covered: health, mental health, early childhood development, child protection and family support, school and higher education and training, employment, housing and community infrastructure, transport, justice and aged care.
The discussion raised many issues, particularly around the complexities of delineating between what support is and isn’t covered, the lack of mental health support and the difficulties in achieving consistency and sufficient support plans across areas. 
Some of the comments and observations made by workshop participants included:
(i) Support delineation issues
In the health sector there is often friction about discharge planning; particularly in distinguishing between what is a health or disability issue and where responsibility lies for addressing the issue. This is also an issue for educational providers. Participants from the educational sector also found that parent often experience frustration because of the delineation between services defined as educational (not covered by NDIS) and disability support services. In addition, support services needed are often required out of school hours when it is more difficult to find providers, particularly in regional areas. Schools have also found having multiple providers coming into schools has created a range of administrative and management issues including – need for police checks and co-ordination of a wider range of people coming into the school (registered and unregistered providers).
(ii) The process for getting new plans has slowed
Participants from the early childhood sector stated that the transiting of existing clients occurred relatively smoothly, but as new clients have commenced the process, progress on accessing and finalising plans has slowed.
(iii) Lack of mental health support
Young people with high functioning autism seem to be slipping through the gaps as they need more support to access and sustain employment. In addition there is concern that many people are currently missing out on community mental health services and support due to lack of funding in Victoria.
(iv) Housing
All participants agreed that there is insufficient suitable, affordable and appropriate housing options available.
(v) Navigating the NDIS processes
Carers and advocates experience high levels of frustration navigating the NDIS bureaucracy, stating that it is complex, unco-ordinated and determinations appear to be inconsistent. Strong advocates tend to achieve better plans, leaving those more vulnerable at greater risk of not receiving the services they need. The constant turnover of staff within NDIS staff and across NDIS areas presents problems around continuity and consistency.
(vi) Need for holistic approach
Co-ordinators have replaced the case worker role which means that individuals lack professional oversight of their care and plan. The scheme fails to consider the individual as a whole. Specialist planners are needed for specific cohorts what are particularly vulnerable such as those leaving care and the aged.
There was some discussion about how whether children and aged people are engaged in the planning process. Both carers and clients can find it difficult to concentrate or speak openly if the other is in the planning session. It was acknowledged that this is a complex issue.
There is a lack of support for people in the prison system and support is cancelled too early, which can create further difficulties can down the track when issues are left unaddressed.
(vii) Market failure issues
Some participants raised concerns about the financial viability of provider agencies into the future because of more individuals seeking services from unregistered or private providers (sometimes accessed due to waiting lists in agencies that have previously provided the service).
In addition, the funding does not sufficiently take into account the cost of travel, outreach and referral work needed, particularly in regional areas where the distances are greater, there are less services and many individuals and families are more isolated.
Concern was expressed about the increase in ‘pop-up’ TAFE providers and the need to evaluate the quality of the training provided and the actual impact on positive employment outcomes from the people attending.
A snapshot report will be made available from the BSL Research and Policy Centre once the consultation with stakeholder groups has been completed. Information from the consultations will be used to inform development of the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s NDIS work into the future.
A number of members indicated their interest in this topic but were unable to attend. Over the coming months, watch this space as Catholic Social Services Victoria will be working on a number of issues raised in the workshop to develop activities to support members in their work serving people living with disabilities.

•    Hearing, Healing, Hope: The Ministry of Service in Challenging Times - a book that builds on the reflections and challenges of keynote speakers, workshop leaders and engaged participants at the  Catholic Social Services national conference held in Melbourne in February 2018. The book includes a chapter on the two NDIS workshops held at the conference.

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