Future of Disability Accommodations in Australia?

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

Recently, I have been reading a report that detailed the current scenario of Supported Independent living Models (Disability Accommodation) in Australia. The report was published on 13 May 2020 by the Joint standing committee on the NDIS and it detailed facts, observations and recommendations by the committee on the existing SIL model of supports. As I kept reading the report, one thing clearly indicated to me is that the committee was very serious to bring a positive change and it made a great stand point indicating that the current SIL model requires serious overhaul. I was impressed to find a long list of 45 recommendations made by the committee to improve the existing NDIS accommodation service scenario for people with disabilities.

The key information within the report ranged from all sorts of discussions, from SIL approval to all the way to the exit of the participant and so forth vacancy management by the provider. While the report is an intensive 149-page document, it may be an easy to grasp information for audiences who are already affiliated or working with NDIS and SIL in some way. But for those who are new to NDIS, I thought to write this little piece of document that may give some background and insights into SIL in a simple manner. I have tried to summarize some key aspects here that led to the findings within the report in the context of What, Why and How for the issues mentioned in the report.

However, If you wish to dig deep down in to this quality stuff, the full document is available here - https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/National_Disability_Insurance_Scheme/Independentliving/Report

So WHAT is this report talking about?

If you are pondering what is it all about that joint committee is discussing in its report and why these flaws needing streamlining, I must say - you have an Interesting Question to begin with.

Now, those who are connected to NDIS and/or disability sector in Australia, they may be familiar with the terms SIL, ILO, STA & SDA and may also be aware of some of the service and funding related issues existing with these models of accommodation. However, for those who are new to these terms, let me tell you that these terms represent Accommodation models in Disability services that are funded by NDIA (A Government Agency).

These are the types of dwelling which are owned or rented by Disability service providers and the supports are offered to participants within that home 24/7 based on the needs and requirement of NDIS participant. This is to enable participants to live as independently and autonomously as possible. The supports are totally funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, while the tenancy part of the dwelling is managed by service provider and is funded by participant from their DSP.

WHY is this change needed?

NDIS is all about providing choice and control to people with disabilities, however it seems like committee realises that NDIS principles stumbles when it comes to SIL homes. With more than 8 years of my experience in Disability sector, I am fully aware of the pain points faced by service providers and participants in coming together on an agreement in SIL disability accommodations.

With SIL, providers do often provide a lot of flexibility, choice and control - working hard to please participants. I have seen many providers trying different things, including many letting participants having their room painted in colour of their choice and many other adjustments and changes as a resident may wish. But I often try to think what can be those key determinants that can measure the inner satisfaction of a participant within the SIL home. Surely there can be many factors requiring consideration to gauge that deeper connection and again such a feeling of calling a place “My Home” is a long term thing for we humans, but the point is to what extent a service provider may try to make a person feel at home. Probably, it may require a long term commitment both ways from both participant and provider. It is about constantly understanding and fine tuning things based on the needs of participants.

I have seen many Organisations having great processes and trying their best to achieve optimum but what if some or many SIL providers are failing in some or the other way. And abuse is another huge issue to deal with when it comes to disability accommodations. And this is where the committee is heading towards to increase the safeguards and also to streamline the system.

Being proactive and nurturing a culture that eliminates gaps, issues may be less likely to occur. Bur if issues does occur, are we as service providers prepared to transfer a participant to another service provider volunteerily and not wait until someone external picks it up. Such situation to transfer a client can be a draining experience for most service providers as it would mean shuffling lot of things, not only creating a vacancy but can be a big financial risk to many small providers. To let go participants just like that, may even jeopardise their existence in such a competitive market. But if a participant has expresssed being unhappy in a particular SIL home then regardless of its implications on the provider, the participant must be provided with options to shift to live the best life.

So how can this all be fixed. Pondering over the recommendations made by the committee, to me an ideal change would bring SIL improvements that not only support participant needs and it must as it is what NDIS is all about; but a good futureproof system will also give some consideration to support new and existing service providers to adapt to the SIL market and manage vacancy well.

Now, there can be many underlying factors for SIL setups not working. Inefficency in managing vacancy is a major factor affecting many providers financialy and leading to quick signup of participants. If new SIL improvements can ease and assist with vacancy management in someway, providers can rather prefer gradual introduction and a proper induction process for participants to their SIL homes, rather than being hasty in filling vacancies which in turn may avoid the risk of misfit.

Undoubtedly vacancies in a SIL home is a business risk. How to manage and avoid such risks is something to be handled by good management practices of providers. But, I still see that in order to solve the SIL complications arising from improper match of participants and hastily filling vacancies, NDIA needs to introduce measures from both participant and service providers side to make a solid two-way bridge.

Much of the issues discussed above is also resulting due to the fact that the current SIL model transitioned from the pre NDIS era model of disability housing (state funded system) and the report did acknowledge that. Hence, in order to bring serious improvements, it is important to try and see SIL from a completely new set of eyes, that when new refinements can be suggested and hence the report making 40 plus recommendations is something heading in that direction.

I am hopeful that some recommendation made by committee such as having a register of vacancy and setting up a specialist team under NDIA for vacancy management, may provide some assistance to providers in the management of SIL vacancy and an answer towards some of the financial difficulties faced by provider.

HOW – Highlights of recommendations/suggestions

To revamp the fractured system, changes will include transparent and faster processes, provisioning of additional funds in plans to give participants choice to exit SIL and co-residency arragnemnts if they prefer, more individualised funding models, strengthening choice and control by eradicating conflict of interest issues existing by separating SIL, support coordination and tenancy management provided by same provider.

If you are a SIL provider, this is the time to gear up and to develop and shape your processes or business model in a way that may give you a smoother transition in the new upcoming SIL regime. The report mentioning about provisioning additional funding for participants wanting to quit congregate living arrangements with a view to give flexibility also means an inclination towards ILO models.

Now let’s look at the ILO models for an instance, which is focussed on giving a more meaningful connection to one’s life and choice. ILO addresses and tries to strengthen six principles and is a useful starting point for assisting people explore ILO over SIL. These fundamentals are Belonging, Independent living, self-determination, flexibility, choice and trust.

So in conclusion, with changes expected and coming, a thing to ponder for SIL providers is - Will ILO model takes over SIL and is a major focus area of the agency to solve general crisis faced by SIL Disability Accommodation providers and participants in Australia? Certainly SIL will exist for participants with more complex needs as stated in the report however those who need flexibility and little care ILO opens exciting new range of possibilities than conventional SIL models. ILO provides more options and is built around individual choice Options.

We can wait, be ready and prepare ourselves for the changes coming and hope that the future of SIl under NDIS becomes only better for both participants and providers, as the scheme matures.

If your reading was a worth a while and like the article or have queries feel free to contact us on contact@elsaustralia.org

Written by - Shoeb Patel

A Visionary, A Founder, A Manager, with extensive experience in Disability & Aged Care and a strong academic background in Aged Care Management, Business studies and General Management.

Extremely passionate about creating a society that includes, values and amplifies the voice of people with disabilities and Frail aged

Highly Interested in developing ambitious service delivery models and sustainable organisational structures in public health sector

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