Opening statement to inquiry into young people with a disability in residential care

Posted on 11 March 2015 by David Fox and Mary D'Elia

Today MacKillop Family Services appeared at the inquiry in to the adequacy of existing residential care arrangements available for young people with severe physical, mental or intellectual disabilities in Australia. Below is our opening statement:

Good Morning, MacKillop Family Services would like to thank the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs for inviting us to speak to the Inquiry this morning.

MacKillop provides services in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia to children, young people and families. Programs include support to families in which a child or young person has a disability. We also provide out-of-home care, family and parenting support and specialist education services. Some of MacKillop’s services are provided in the Barwon trial site for the NDIS.

MacKillop wishes to speak to three points:

1. The service system, including the NDIA, does not adequately fund case management and placement prevention supports to families with a child with a disability, that would prevent relinquishment.

2. If a child or young person does require a residential care option, a range of service delivery models best allows for a tailored response to the individual client’s needs.

3. These supports need to be child-centred, family-focussed and trauma-informed.

It is MacKillop’s view that any examination of the adequacy of existing residential care arrangements available for young people with severe physical, mental or intellectual disabilities in Australia, must also look at the needs of children and young people with a disability in state care and their accommodation and support pathways.

Children grow and thrive in family environments where secure attachments are formed and nurtured, and wherever possible the best interests of children with a disability will be realised by maintaining them in the care of their families.

MacKillop believes that the current market based insurance model, delivered under NDIA, does not provide effectively for the wrap around support required by families with a child with a significant disability and funding for effective early intervention supports, that would prevent relinquishment of children into care.

By providing support to the family, MacKillop’s former “Making A Difference” program had the capacity to support families to continue to provide care for their child with a disability.

Whilst it may be argued that the NDIA has funded “coordination of supports” instead of programs like Making A Difference, the level of funding provided is significantly lower and doesn’t provide wrap-around family support. Since the closure of its Making A Difference program a number of children with disabilities, previously able to be maintained within their families, have now been relinquished into the care of the state and have been referred to MacKillop’s out-of-home care program.

In cases where the entry into state care is unavoidable, MacKillop advocates for models such as Family Options and residential care that are tailored to the needs of the young person.

Family Options is a Victorian Department of Health and Human Services funded program, that supports families of young people with a disability by providing a choice to share their care responsibilities with volunteer carers. DHHS describe Family Options as providing short term and long term alternative family placements for people with a disability who are unable to live with their own family.

In MacKillop’s experience, Family Options has had fewer referrals since the introduction of the NDIS, however, it is our view that people would choose Family Options if it, and models like it, were recognised by the NDIA.

The Family Options program requires funding and infrastructure to undertake volunteer recruitment, assessment, training and provide carers with ongoing support. This is to ensure the program operates effectively, and also safeguards the children and young people within the program.  Individualised funding packages do not accommodate this type of model.

Two other MacKillop out-of-home accommodation models have also indicated how responsive and individually focussed care, can achieve some success in supporting young people with disabilities.

For example, one of our residential homes has been tailored to meet the needs of a small group of young people with hearing impairment. This has included specialist training for residential care workers and some home modifications. This is unusual for an agency like MacKillop because this has occurred in a generalist out of home care house, but we have been able to provide specialised supports through careful matching of residents and other interventions.

A second example is the cluster model which provides up to four houses or units, in close proximity, with graduated leaving care support.

We applaud the Senate Committee’s exploration of alternative forms of accommodation and support for people with disabilities. In MacKillop’s view this exploration cannot take place without an examination of options for children and young people up to age 18, and moving towards more independent lives.

MacKillop’s submission to this inquiry makes eight recommendations that focus on the unique needs of children and young people with a disability and their families, and we commend these to you, for the Committee’s consideration.


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