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Supported Independent Living - Before the NDIS and After

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Picture of a home scene half covered by a purple NDIS block representing before the NDIS and after

Big changes have happened in the lives of people in supported accommodation (generally known as 'group homes') since the NDIS rolled out in 2016. 

In this Explainer, we describe how things were before the NDIS, and how they are now, with a focus on two important factors: individualised funding and person-centred supports.

The emphasis today is on ensuring that people with disabilities can and do lead fulfilling lives living independently in their communities There is still a way to go before this goal is achieved for everyone. But people with disabilities and their families can now feel more confident that their future in Supported Independent Living (SIL) will be positive, rewarding, and safe.

Then ...  

In the days before the NDIS, State disability departments ran their own ‘group homes’ for people with disabilities, and contracted independent providers (usually community and/or church-based organisations) to run others. The system in place was called ‘block funding’, which meant that these providers received a lump sum to cover the costs of operating these homes. Funding went to the provider, not the person with disability.

Getting into one of the group homes was a crisis-based process because there was a severe shortage of available places. Vacancies were allocated to the most desperate cases, for example, when an ageing parent had died or become incapacitated and was no longer able to provider care for their son or daughter. Parents submitted complex application forms, which were placed on long waiting lists.  

Many parents were struggling financially, physically and emotionally, unable to cope with the expectation of providing full-time care for decades for their sons and daughters with high support needs. The only heartbreaking option for these families was to ‘dump’ their son or daughter at a respite (short-term accommodation) centre and refuse to take them back home, a decision that was necessary for some, and unthinkable for others.

For people living in these group homes, choice was limited. They often had to move far away from their families, and they were unable choose whom they shared with, or who delivered their supports. Emphasis was on managing homes rather than meeting the individual needs of residents. Many providers and staff were trying their best, but the system limited what they could do. Family members were not encouraged to be involved. If they felt something was amiss, they often did not know how to make a complaint, or they thought their concerns would not be heard.

Group homes could be isolated from their communities, and what went on inside them was not always known. Reports of violence and abuse were not uncommon, with the result that families were fearful of relinquishing their loved ones into a system they felt was outside their control.

Now ...

Under the NDIS, Commonwealth Government disability funding now goes directly to the person with disability, instead of to disability services organisations. That means that individuals can now choose how they organise and pay for the supports they need. A result of this is that there is now more competition among service providers: they have to attract clients, and meet their support and safety needs, or they will not survive in the marketplace.

Under the NDIS, there are also more housing options for people with disability. There are more places available and more choices. The old centralised waiting lists have gone, and people can speak directly with housing services, and use their own NDIS funding to choose the living situation that suits them best.

Providers now need to comply by law with a set of responsibilities called the NDIS Practice Standards. One of the key elements of the Standards is Person-centred supports, meaning that the funded supports an individual receives must respond to that person's choices, wants and needs. 

Person – centred supports

Outcome: Each participant accesses supports that promote, uphold and respect their legal and human rights and is enabled to exercise informed choice and control. The provision of supports promotes, upholds and respects individual rights to freedom of expression, self-determination and decision-making.

To achieve this outcome, the following indicators should be demonstrated:

  • Each participant’s legal and human rights are understood and incorporated into everyday practice.
  • Communication with each participant about the provision of supports is responsive to their needs and is provided in the language, mode of communication and terms that the participant is most likely to understand.
  • Each participant is supported to engage with their family, friends and chosen community as directed by the participant

What Person-centred support means for NDIS participants in Supported Independent Living

  • People can choose where they live and whom they live with
  • People have more say about who provides their in-home supports
  • People have more say about how decisions are made in their supported accommodation
  • Family members and friends have more opportunity to be involved in the life of the person with disability in their supported accommodation
  • SIL providers are required to supply more information to residents and families, and be more transparent about their operations
  • Pathways for making complaints are stronger and more accessible so that people can feel more confident that their concerns will be heard

But it’s not all rosy yet

Achieving the best housing solutions for people with disabilities is a work in progress. The NDIS has brought about positive changes, but there is still a way to go.

For example, funding for SIL is difficult to obtain, and some people are still missing out.

Some SIL providers are slower than others to embrace the big changes required in the way they deliver services, and in the way they engage with people with disabilities and their families.

When you are choosing a SIL provider, ask them:

  • How they deliver Person-centred supports in their residences
  • How they encourage and respond to suggestions and feedback from residents and their families
  • How they deal with complaints.

We can be confident that life in supported accommodation is much better now.

By expecting more from SIL providers, people with disabilities and their families can bring about even more positive change.

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