As 1 July approaches, service providers in NSW and SA are preparing to lead the nation into the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework. As part of the process, individual state-based quality systems will cease to apply and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards (Q&S) Commission will take over the role of regulating the quality of services and safeguards for NDIS participants. All other states will follow their lead on 1 July 2019, with the exception of WA which comes online on 1 July 2020.
Any day now the Commission will publicly release the Q&S rules, with guidance to accompany it. This will be of great interest to all service providers, especially those in NSW and SA. However, the final version of the Q&S Framework itself has been in the public domain for a year. Therefore, we already know the new system invites providers to think a little differently about some aspects of Q&S.
You may recall that the Framework has three areas of focus that are labelled developmental, preventative and corrective. In each state’s existing quality and safeguard systems, the emphasis has been on prevention and correction. This is how most of us understand the historical role of government regulators in other spheres of our lives. So, what does the developmental, or capacity building element add? And how might service providers put it into action?
What makes you safe?
To answer this question consider something even more basic: what is it that makes you safe and adds quality to your life? For the vast majority of us, the prevailing answer is ‘relationships’. The family and friends who know us well, love us and look out for us are the primary things that keep us safe. They also are at the heart of us feeling that we have good lives.
The same is true for people with disability. The people in their lives who know them well, love them and look out for them enhance the quality of their lives and enable them to feel and be safe. However, for many people who have high and complex support needs, their relationship circle has dwindled to service provider staff and people who are paid to be in their lives. In many such cases, paid staff know the person very well and genuinely care for them, love them and watch out for their welfare. But the reality is that paid staff are in the person’s life because they are paid to be there. With job mobility the way it is, they will inevitably come and go. If I contemplate an equivalent experience for myself, the idea that my closest circle of friends and loved ones would be composed solely or largely of people who are paid to be in my life . . . well, it’s an underwhelming prospect at best.
Here then, are three practical steps that service providers can take to meaningfully apply the developmental domain of the Q&S Framework.
First, review your support worker Position Descriptions. Do they contain the explicit expectation that all support workers will ‘facilitate the person to build relationships with peers’ (meaning people of similar age and background who don’t have a disability)? Friendships are foundational to my life, your life and to the NDIS’s aspiration for the ‘social and economic participation of people with disability’. If this expectation is not explicitly written in job descriptions, we should not be surprised when support workers end up behaving as ‘paid friends’.
Secondly, review your support worker training tools. Facilitating friendship building for many people with complex support needs may be seen as too difficult and challenging. Support workers will need to be well trained in order to succeed. They will also need the right sort of supervision, systemic support and encouragement to persevere when some of their efforts produce no results.
Thirdly, shift your thinking away from activities and places to the roles somebody plays in the community. Jane Sherwin writes eloquently about how important this is. Far too much ‘community inclusion’ is little more than community tourism or ‘child-minding’ for adults. It fills participants’ schedules with activities to do and places to go without ever providing them with the opportunity to have roles through which they can contribute and build relationships with other people.
Most of us have a range of valued social roles that enable us to contribute to our society, communities and friends. These roles frequently form the basis of getting to know others, exploring common interests, building friendships and sometimes falling in love. Generally speaking, the roles of ‘disabled person’ or ‘supported person’ are not socially valued. To change this, support workers and other staff need to place thinking about people in roles at the heart of what they do.
A brief example to illustrate this point. One of my son’s support workers plays in a local football team. He decided to explore with his coach whether there might be a role in the club for my son, without knowing what it might be. The coach was more than supportive – he was enthusiastic. My son (30 years old with high support needs) was invited to watch some matches and to visit the club during training sessions. He was warmly welcomed and given a club jumper, showing him that he was as valued as all other club members. A possible role for him quickly emerged and he was invited to try it out. Runners take drinks to the field for players during each game. But no-one wanted the job of refilling the bottles, so my son has taken it on. While it is still early days, the results so far are promising. He is in a valued role and is getting to know guys his own age. We will see where it goes from here, but for now, it is a much more promising experience than simply passing time as a football spectator in the company of a ‘paid friend’.