Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) Conference 2019

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Introduction

Before I begin, I would like to thank you all for being here. The work you all do for the children of Australia, particularly those with a disability or developmental delay does not go unnoticed.

I would also like to thank Yvonne Keane, Chief Executive Officer of Early Childhood Intervention Australia, for inviting me to speak with you this afternoon.

After the recent election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison appointed me as Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Since then, both the Prime Minister and I have been meeting with NDIS participants, their families and carers and service providers to hear about their experience with the NDIS.

I have seen and heard stories about how the NDIS is making a difference to the lives of so many Australians, but I know we can do more to move the NDIS from being a great service to being an exceptional service.

Right now, I see the progress of implementation of the NDIS as being around 80 per cent complete. This is not a reflection of the hard work of NDIA staff or their partner—rather it is about being honest about where we are collectively at in delivering this world-leading scheme.

With this in mind, we have 20 per cent to go—and the last 20 per cent, as you know, is always the hardest part.

Development of a plan is currently under way. A plan to ensure the final 20 per cent of the NDIS is delivered and delivered right.

The Prime Minister and I have a vision – to make sure that all services provided to Australians are provided in a joined up manner, that they are easily accessible for them and that the focus is on them.

Service is a strong theme that you will often hear me talk about in my Ministerial roles in this coming term of government.

Top of the list will be ensuring that, as we work to our goal of the NDIS supporting almost 500,000 Australians, we improve the experience of all participants whether they have been in the Scheme since it commenced as a trial or whether they are new participants.

Today is another opportunity to listen and continue the conversation about how the NDIS is working – or not working – for participants and families in the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach.

We have come a long way:

  • Prior to the introduction of the NDIS, the approach to providing support to children with developmental delay or disability varied between the states and territories – leading to inequity in access to services.
  • And in the trial years of the NDIS (2013-2016), children aged 0-6 were required to go through the same access process as adults often delaying access to early interventions so vital to improving their life outcomes.

The NDIS Early Childhood approach has provided a single – and, importantly, national – approach to early childhood intervention supports to meet individual needs and to ensure children and families achieve the best possible outcomes.

The NDIS has the potential to be a game-changer for families and children with significant and permanent disability or developmental delay to meet their goals and engage in the community.

I know this is already the case for many children in Australia. But I also know that unnecessarily complex processes have the potential to discourage families who are already doing so much for their children.

There are major improvements being delivered through the enhanced Early Childhood pathway – making our national approach even better for children, families and carers.

The NDIS

Before I talk about the ECEI approach, I want to put it in context – let us take a moment to reflect on what the NDIS will do to change lives for the better.

The NDIS is a world-first, once-in-a-generation reform, the biggest since the introduction of Medicare in the 1970s.

Through the NDIS, we have put the funding where it needs to be – into the hands of people with disability, so they can exercise choice and control over the services and supports they need, to be part of their community, to enter the workforce, or to enhance their daily lives.

There is no doubt the NDIS is a big change. And, like any world-leading reform, there are challenges along the way.

But I strongly believe the NDIS replaces a broken system where people with disability often had no say or control over their supports, and faced an inequitable structure that disadvantaged some people because of where they lived.

For the first time, people with disability are at the centre. The NDIS invests in people and their potential.

Everyone's needs and goals are different. The NDIS gives all Australians peace of mind. If they, their child or loved one is born with, or acquires a permanent and significant disability, they will get the support they need.

Central to the NDIS is a focus on investing early to reduce the long term impact of a person’s disability and that is why early intervention is such an important element of the Scheme.

Like the theme for this conference, the NDIS is based on the idea that, with early and personalised supports, every child has every possibility to achieve their potential.

Where are we now?

The NDIS is now available in all states and territories, and from 1 July of this year, it will also be available right across Western Australia (who joined later).

There are now around 280,000 participants supported by the NDIS to reach their goals, more than 85,000 of whom have never had any state or federal disability supports.

We have more than 11,500 children aged 0-six, receiving supports through the ECEI approach.

By the end of this month we expect there to be 100,000 people receiving disability supports for the first time and by early next month we will have over 300,000 NDIS participants—130,000 of these participants will be children aged 0 – 18.

We are working hard to deliver on the promise of the NDIS that Australians with a significant and permanent disability and their families can choose the support they need to participate fully in their communities.

The Scheme is a partnership between the Commonwealth, states and territories.

Only by collaborating across the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments will we deliver a Scheme that gets it right for participants today, while ensuring the Scheme will be there to meet the needs of all Australians into the future.

I’ve hit the ground running in ensuring stability for those remaining states by locking down Scheme agreements. Last week we signed Victoria. Queensland has some work to go, but I’m working hard to deliver certainty.

The NDIS ECEI Framework

In February 2016, the NDIA developed a nationally-consistent approach to early childhood early intervention, based on best-practice, for children under the age of seven.

It gives me great confidence that ECIA National were involved in the development of this Framework and guidelines, and have worked in partnership with the NDIA for the past five years.

The ECEI Approach has an important role to play in assisting children under the age of seven who are showing signs of developmental delay and/or disability.

The ECEI Approach will help all children with developmental delay or disability and their families achieve better long-term outcomes through support services in their local community, regardless of diagnosis.

Early intervention aims to reduce the impact of a child’s impairment on their functional capacity by providing support at the earliest possible stage.

The Approach builds on the strengths and capacity of the family and promotes increased inclusion and participation in a child’s everyday environments.

Importantly, the NDIS promotes family decision-making and ensures the values and needs of the whole family are considered to support the child’s development.

Early intervention support is also intended to benefit a child by reducing their future need for supports.

The ECEI Approach is currently delivered through 18 ECEI Partners across the country.

ECEI Partners are at differing stages of maturity in different locations. Some ECEI Partners are in their first year of operation, while others have been operating since the ECEI Approach first rolled out.

Not all children in the ECEI approach will go on to be an NDIS participant with a plan.

In addition, in some cases, reviews when the child is around seven years old may determine that early intervention has increased the child’s capacity and independence, and decreased their need for additional support, which is what the NDIS is all about.

Case studies

I would like to share with you two short stories that illustrate the diversity of our ECEI framework and the families it supports.

James

James is from Canberra. He was one of the first children to use the ECEI approach to achieve his goals and move beyond the ECEI gateway to a point where he no longer requires support.

James had trouble communicating. As a result of a stutter and articulation issues, his dad and mum were the only ones who could really understand him. And friends would always look to his parents to interpret what he was saying.

Through support under the ECEI Framework, James was able to access speech therapy at the age of three.

With this support, he developed very quickly.

Now aged five, James is in a mainstream primary school, achieving his goals.

James’ mum Leah acknowledges moving on from NDIS ECEI supports was a real achievement for the whole family.

Emma

Emma is a three year old Ballarat girl who loves swimming and ballet. She survived a stroke in utero and is receiving life-changing therapies through the NDIS ECEI approach.

When Emma was nine months old, her parents noticed she wasn’t meeting her developmental milestones, wasn’t very active and didn’t use the right side of her body.

Emma was quickly diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a significant portion of the left hemisphere of her brain had been damaged by the stroke.

Emma began therapy shortly after her diagnosis and joined the NDIS through the ECEI approach a year ago. She received speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy to help her develop her mobility and strength.

She is now walking and talking, attending a mainstream kindergarten, and doing all the things other children her age would do such as ballet, reading and swimming.

Her mum has also been able to return to the workforce.

Challenges

We all know that there have been some challenges with rolling out the ECEI Approach.

With many ECEI Partners rapidly growing their operations and workforces, we need to focus on having experienced and trained staff to support families.

We also know that in some areas, there have been longer than ideal wait times for children with newly diagnosed developmental delays or disability.

These wait times are unacceptable, and I have made it a clear priority of mine to turn these wait times around.

The Prime Minister and I have been talking to families who use ECEI services about improving the early childhood pathway.

Three themes have consistently emerged.

  1. The absolute importance of providing early intervention supports to children when they are young, and the improved trajectory because of this
  2. We need to improve communication about the services that are available and connect families to the range of services that are available in the community
  3. We need to improve the process and timeliness for accessing these services.

And there is always a need to better understand best practice in early childhood interventions – what is working well for children and families.

Resolving issues and backlogs

As the Minister for the NDIS, I have been working with the NDIA to identify what more can be done to reduce the backlogs that are currently being experienced by families in some locations.

In some areas across the country, ECEI partners are managing their wait lists in accordance with expected timeframes, and families are receiving the supports they require.

Other partners are experiencing temporary pressures, ranging from being newly established to securing the right staff with the right skills—as well as large numbers of children being transferred from state and territory systems.

We have identified a number of locations in Australia where families and children are waiting far too long for ECEI services.

Today I can announce that the NDIA will implement a six-month recovery plan—a surge if you may—to resolve any delays and backlogs currently being experienced across the country.

This recovery plan will revolve around six key initiatives:

  1. For those children who have approached the NDIS through an ECEI Partner and are awaiting an access decision, the NDIA’s first priority will be to work with ECEI Partners to secure additional resources to ensure children are able to receive early childhood supports in a more timely manner.
  2. For those children who have been found eligible for the NDIS, but who are currently experiencing significant waiting periods for a plan – that is where the period between an access decision and getting a plan is greater than 50 days – the NDIA will provide a standardised interim plan for 6 months. These interim plans will be replaced by a full NDIS plan no later than 6 months after being issued.
    • For new participants who are not categorised as complex and who are not transferring from an existing Commonwealth, state or territory disability program—they will be given a standardised interim plan for $10,000.
    • For those who are transferring from an existing Commonwealth, state or territory disability programs their interim NDIS plan and funding package will reflect their existing support levels. If, however, that amount is lower than $10,000 - they will also receive the $10,000 standardised interim plan for up to six months.
  3. For participants with complex support needs, they will immediately be streamed to an NDIA Early Childhood specialist to develop their plan and appropriate funding package.
  4. To support these initiatives, the NDIA will increase the capacity of its national access team and continue to closely monitor the progress and timeliness of access decisions.
  5. The NDIA will also provide additional support to ECEI Partners in areas experiencing delays by redirecting available NDIA ECEI planners to assist with planning activities.
  6. The NDIA ICT system will also be upgraded to enable more data on the ECEI gateway to be entered into the system to provide full end-to-end metrics—providing the NDIA with better information on which to make decisions and better support children and their families.

We expect the above strategies will resolve current delays and backlogs within ECEI Partners by the end of the year.

However, we will continue to monitor the wait time data closely to ensure these strategies are deployed as necessary wherever significant wait times emerge and to determine if these temporary measures require extension beyond this calendar year.

Over the longer term, the Prime Minister and I have committed to an NDIS Participant Service Guarantee, setting new standards for shorter timeframes for people to get an NDIS plan or to have their plan reviewed.

This will have a particular focus on early childhood early intervention supports, as well as participants requiring specialist disability accommodation and assistive technology.

The NDIS Participant Service Guarantee will be developed and legislated in close consultation with people with disability, their families, carers and supporters, as well as the NDIA and state and territory governments.

The NDIA will report against performance under the new NDIS Participant Service Guarantee to the COAG Disability Reform Council.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman will be given additional resources of $2 million to monitor performance against the Participant Service Guarantee timeframes, and to support NDIS participants pursuing complaints about time frames they have experienced.

The NDIS Participant Service Guarantee will build on existing strategies the NDIA is putting in place to improve the experience for people with disability including the ECEI pathway.

National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism

Work is underway to implement the National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism in Australia, which was released in October 2018.

We know that making the diagnostic process more consistent and efficient across Australia is an important priority for the autism and early intervention sectors, as well as for families undergoing assessment.

Implementation of the Guideline will aim to establish a minimum national standard for autism assessment and diagnosis, lending transparency and consistency to this process.

We will work closely with external stakeholders in the implementation of the Guideline, including professional bodies, peaks, service providers and consumers.

The Guideline does not impact the access requirements for the NDIS. Any person with autism who is eligible for the NDIS will continue to receive the reasonable and necessary supports they are assessed as needing.

The Government and the NDIA have previously committed that any changes to NDIS access rules for autism will only occur after consultation with people with autism, their families and carers, and the sector.

National Blueprint for Early Childhood Intervention

It is vital that we have a clear way forward to support the successful delivery of early intervention services, both inside and outside the NDIS.

That is why the Government is providing $300,000 in funding for ECIA to develop a National Blueprint for early childhood intervention services, in consultation with the Department of Social Services and the NDIA, along with sector leaders, service providers, parents and carers.

The National Blueprint will focus on understanding the current state of the early childhood intervention sector, including the challenges and opportunities facing the sector due to the transition to the NDIS.

Improving the capacity of service providers, parents and carers to navigate and adapt to these changes will deliver the best possible outcomes for children with a developmental delay and their families.

Services Australia

Delivering efficient, high quality services to Australians is one of the highest priorities of the Morrison Government and we will work together to make it a reality. That is why, on 26 May 2019, the Prime Minister announced that Services Australia will be established to drive improvements in, and better integration of, Government service delivery.

Our move towards Services Australia will build upon the significant improvements we have made, and lead to a model that best serves the Australian public.

Everyone that delivers government services make decisions daily that impact directly and immediately on Australians.

That is particularly true for the NDIS, which is delivering choice and control to people with disability every day.

Conclusion - Listening to participants, their families and carers sector

The Prime Minister and I are committed to better understanding how the NDIS is working—or not working—for participants, families, carers and providers.

We have come a long way in delivering the NDIS—we are 80 per cent there—but there is still a lot to do.

I am actively working with the NDIA and the Department of Socials Services—and am committed to working with you—to progress the development of a plan to ensure we can deliver the last 20 per cent of the NDIS.

Our election commitments form part of our approach to delivering on the final 20 per cent—including the introduction of the participant service guarantee, which will be enshrined in legislation.

The initiatives to eliminate the ECEI backlog—as I have outlined to you today—are another important part of the plan that will help children to get the support they need sooner.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to better understand how the NDIS is changing the lives of young Australians.

Today is the next step in the conversation between Government and the sector and in the coming weeks, I will outline further initiatives as part of the Government’s plan to deliver a world leading NDIS.

Thank you.