Over the last year, I have spoken to people from hundreds of organisations around Australia about the current and future role of Support Coordinators in the NDIS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these discussions are often focused on the challenges of delivering this new service, with particular attention to two key sticking points:
1. Support Coordination as a time limited support
For the vast majority of participants, Support Coordination is designed to be a time limited support to build capacity during a time of major transition. For example, many NDIS participants now have Support Coordination built into their first NDIS plan as a way to build capacity to support them to understand and initially navigate the NDIS.
So the question we commonly get is, if Support Coordination is time limited, does that mean that every participant will have their funding cut after one year? No, it does not, and the NDIA have even gone so far as to call this misconception a “myth”.
However, what we are seeing in practice is a systematic reduction or removal of these hours over time for most participants, with the expectation that the participants’ capacity is sufficiently built or that this support be provided by Local Area Coordinators.
It is anticipated in the long term that about 20-30% of NDIS participants will have Support Coordination in their plans in any given year at full rollout. We don't know who these people are, other than that it will be a combination of people going through a life transition (e.g. moving house, changes in informal supports, new to NDIS) and people with very complex support coordination needs.
What seems certain for now is that Support Coordination will only ever be ongoing at any kind of relevant scale for a small minority of participants.
2. The role of Local Area Coordinators in performing Support Coordination
It was always intended that LACs would support participants to understand the NDIS and link with mainstream, community and funded supports. However, with the backlog in planning caused by the GPD (Great Portal Disaster) that kept LACs burning the midnight oil well into 2017, we are only recently starting to see LACs engaging in this work.
Whether or not LACs now actually have the capacity to do this work is certainly up for debate. Nevertheless, we are seeing a strong push from Planners to reduce the number of Support Coordination hours in participant plans and funnel participants to LACs for this support.
In August 2017, providers in the Barwon region were informed by email that the newly instated LACs will be taking over all Support Coordination except for participants living in Supported Independent Living (SIL) or those who are engaging in the capacity building aspect (and for the second group it’s only for a three month transition period).
This email specifically stated that for participants assigned to a LAC/ECEI partner Support Coordination and Connection will generally not be included in their new plans as “part of the LAC/ECEI role is to support the participant with accessing mainstream and community supports and implementing their plan.”
As a trial site, we would expect Barwon to be a glimpse into the future for other regions and indeed this email is consistent with what we are hearing is the experience of providers in other states.
In NSW, we understand that LAC Planners have been advised to seriously cut back the number of Support Coordination hours going into plans. In ACT (where they have been in full rollout for years) we understand that the Support Coordination in plans has all but disappeared.
So what does this mean for providers considering offering Support Coordination as a service?
We would argue that these latest pieces of news are unsurprising, as the NDIA has long flagged its intention to cap the number of Support Coordination hours in plans. Whether these are good decisions is another question entirely.
We still wholeheartedly believe in the value of offering Support Coordination – that is, the value to participants, but also to your own organisation. Even if the tap is turned off in the future, if you can build a best practice Support Coordination service, you will have invested in an organisation that:
Knows the NDIS inside out
Knows how to get great planning outcomes for participants
Understands its customers support needs and desires
Knows the local market, including service gaps and opportunities
Has built relationships with participants to whom you have provided a best practice support in facilitating the NDIS
It is clear that building this service without overinvesting in fixed or long term costs is one of the many challenges facing Support Coordination providers. But before you let the challenges keep you out of the market, consider the even greater opportunities you may be letting pass you by.