The Need for State Managed Local Area Coordination

Lorna Carroll is the mother of Peter, who was born in 1964 with an intellectual disability and autism. She is also a retired Local Area Coordinator of more than 10 years. 

“Please learn from history. Please do not go back to the bad old days.”

Staff of the Western Australian Disability Services Commission (now Disability Services), have spent many decades researching, planning and implementing services for people with an intellectual disability and autism and at one time they had a ‘world best practice’ standard of service delivery.  The concept behind that successful service was its ‘person centered’ approach which was implemented through their Local Area Coordination program, now known as Local Coordinators.

Many factors have been responsible for the successful DSC/LAC program, but two major strategies determined their effectiveness. Firstly, the creation and proclamation of the Western Australian Disability Services Commission with its own State Government Minister was crucial. Second, the creation and implementation of the DSC, Local Area Coordination program delivered great benefits. These two strategies enabled services to be targeted to local people with local needs by specifically skilled and trained personnel.

The success of DSC’s LAC program was achieved by first adopting a ‘person centered’ approach to service delivery and then by specifically engaging skilled and well-trained staff with the ability to work directly with families, for as long as it took, to help them identify their needs, before helping determine how those needs could be met. This always involved the need for information sharing and most always involved the need for resources including advocacy and trustworthy support and sometimes, practical support. The objective was always to support the family in their aspirations for a better life, ultimately with less Government intervention.

Assisting people, particularly those with an intellectual disability and/or autism, to identify and address their needs is a developmental issue, requiring long term investment of people skills aimed at supporting individuals, carers and communities to be the best they can be, whilst aiming to decrease unmet need and decrease formal intervention.

Local Coordinators tended to be long term employees who, by the nature of their work, gathered much knowledge, not just about individuals and their families, but also about local communities. In many cases, LC’s influenced appropriate community development and the provision of targeted community resources. The LC’s wealth of knowledge, both of people with intellectual disability and/or autism as well as their families and local communities have been key factors in the success of the DSC/ LAC program. Generic and local information would be shared with DSC Managers, Directors and other bureaucrats, enabling appropriate diplomacy in developing bureaucratic mindsets in relation to developing required principles, values and needs and ultimately, this local knowledge, had the ability to influence effective use of tax payer’s money. 

From my experience, individuals and family carers will be disadvantaged in many ways by the proposed new Federal NDIS program. From what I have read and recently seen with my own eyes, the Federally managed NDIS and persons named Local Coordinators, would sit in front of a computer with a carer or an individual with an intellectual disability and/or autism and enter a range of various individual needs, after which the computer spills out associated information that equates to x number of hours of support needed, which then equates to “x dollars required”. Follow up work would involve addressing how the funding was used and what decreases, or maybe increases of funding was needed. This is an exercise in economics; nothing developmental about that approach and based upon a telling narrative, which has no likeness to the successful DSC/LAC model which addresses needs and personal development. 

Through good practice, LC’s built up valuable knowledge and valuable connections in the community, to lose those assets, any attempt at advocacy for individuals or families will be problematic and without access to informed and skilled advocates, individuals and families will be greatly disadvantaged as will the Government. Under the proposed Federally managed NDIS model, DSC staff will surely move on to more satisfying positions, ones that will better match their people skills and experiences. The result will be a major disadvantage to Western Australians, particularly those with intellectual disability and/or autism and their families, as well as Governments.

About Lorna:

Lorna Carroll is the mother of Peter, who was born in 1964 with an intellectual disability and autism. Lorna’s experiences with the disability system began when Peter was diagnosed by Irrabeena in 1966 as having a moderate level of intellectual disability; at a time when no support services existed. Peter started his schooling with the Millen Special School in 1969 and soon Lorna was involved with the school’s Parent and Friends Committee. Lorna Carroll is most proud of her work with helping implement the first School Holiday Activity program for students with an intellectual disability; later, in 1975 that program advanced to become a weekly Saturday afternoon Club which was known as the Belmont Discovery Club where she served as the Coordinator. As the Club expanded so did Lorna’s voluntary hours increase to almost fulltime work, The Committee agreed to approach the Slow Learning Children’s Group to take over the Discovery Club coordination role. The SLCG agreed but retained Lorna in a new position as full time Activities Officer to manage and expand the service. After 11 years, Lorna moved on to work as a Recreation Officer with the Alcohol and Drug Authority, which later turned into a Lifestyle Planning position – during that time, Lorna worked successfully with a broad range of people including those who had a mild intellectual disability or autism and others who had fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Nine years later, Lorna returned to work with people with Disabilities as a Local Area Coordinator for DSC and at the end of 2005, after 10.5 years in that position, she retired. Lorna’s full time caring role continued until Dec 2016 and now that Peter is happily accommodated in a Supported home, she enjoys part time care and many hours of quiet reflection on the benefits of finally having a clear mind.