Disability support missing those in need

The number of Australians with disabilities not receiving an appropriate level of funding has come under the spotlight. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was established to assist people with disabilities, but it’s claimed many are still missing out.


According to data provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare around one in six (18%) – or about 4.4 million people – have a disability (2019 ABS data). The latest figures reveal more than 550,000 Australians are receiving NDIS funding.


Meanwhile, the final report of the disability royal commission was released on Friday making 222 recommendations.


It comes after the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability held 32 public hearings. Evidence was given by 837 witnesses while 7944 submissions were given from people with disability and their families. 


The report recommends the establishment of a Disability Rights Act to enshrine the international human rights of people with disabilities into domestic law. It also calls for the establishment of a National Disability Agreement and National Disability Commission, along with changes to health, guardianship, schooling, employment, the justice system and housing.


A series of recommendations have also been made about ending segregation.


Last month it was reported that young children severely affected by autism were being disadvantaged by the National Disability Insurance Agency and that their applications for intensive support funding were being rejected. The claim was made by Autism Partnerships Australia (APA) which has told the joint standing committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the agency was “getting the planning decisions wrong” for 100% of the autistic children in its early intensive services.


However, every family the organisation worked with who challenged a funding rejection at the administrative appeals tribunal was eventually approved for intensive support, said APA’s director, Shannon Eeles.


The committee is examining the capability and culture of the NDIA, including its operational processes and procedures, the nature of staff employment and the experiences of people with disability and NDIS participants trying to access information, support and services.


One in 100 people in Australia reportedly have autism. In 2018, there were 205,200 cases of autism, a 25.1% increase from the 164,000 in 2015 (latest figures supplied by ABS SDAC 2018– Autism in Australia).


“We know that the original planning decision is wrong, we know the [NDIA internal review] decision is wrong, because 100% of the children who proceed to appeal are ultimately funded for intensive services. In most instances, that is the NDIA simply changing their mind,” Eeles said.


The average time frame for the NDIA “changing their mind” was one and a half years, Eeles said, which equated to a third of the life of a four-year-old waiting for support.


The cohort of children under discussion were aged between two and six and very affected by their autism, with profound developmental delays, meaning they had less than half of the skills that would be expected for their age. Due to their difficulties in coping with daily life, APA and external professionals had determined that those children needed direct intervention, sometimes up to 25 hours or more a week.


This follows a recent ABC Four Corners report that alleged children with autism and intellectual disabilities had been unlawfully pinned to the ground facedown as part of a controversial therapy funded by the NDIS.


Eighteen children took part in the ‘Severe Behaviour Program’ at Irabina Autism Services in Melbourne. Four Corners said the program involved children spending hours with staff in small, padded, windowless rooms as part of a therapy imported from the US. Each room had a camera and an observation room with a one-way mirror to allow others to observe the treatment.


Whistleblowers said children, believed to be mostly aged between 10 and 14, were restrained by staff when they had “uncontrolled behaviours”.


A subsequent independent report obtained by Four Corners found the practices are unlawful and in breach of the state’s human rights charter. The report said this type of restraint “would be oppressive, frightening or intimidating” for any person.


Information obtained from The Guardian and ABC: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-25/autism-therapy-program-abuse-ndis-four-corners/102896354


Main image: Courtesy Focusonthefamily.com

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