CentaOne trialled a web-facilitated hub and spoke approach to assist people in four small, remote localities in Far North Queensland to register as contractors and offer supports under the NDIS.
People living in Far North Queensland, including the Torres Strait, will have access to the NDIS in mid-2019. Both the number of people likely to be participants and the workforce available to service them are small, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are strongly represented in both populations. The NDIS presents an historic opportunity to improve services for people with disability in FNQ.
Through its experience in delivering the Partners for Recovery program in the region, CentaCare FNQ saw the potential for an innovative service response - supporting people living remotely to offer services under the scheme - that was trialled in this project.
The direct employment of staff in remote locations is a difficult service model for providers to sustain under the NDIS. The common ‘fly-in, fly-out’ or ‘drive-in or drive-out’ models are costly and unsatisfactory. Having local workers who are known in the community is particularly important in remote locations. Many people will already be providing care to NDIS eligible participants but have under-utilised skills or insufficient motivation to gain the additional skills needed for their region.
There is little understanding of the scheme, and traditional service providers are not quick to register.
CentaOne is a website that aims to assist people from local communities to provide support to NDIS participants in the manner most appropriate to them – typically as a sole trader – but also potentially as a Centacare organisational partner.
The website can be the channel through which partners are assisted to start up as service providers, access training and coaching, navigate business-set up and administration and use the NDIA portal. Face to face and telephone support is also part of the model.
Through including locations that range from towns to Aboriginal communities to Torres Strait Islands, the project was positioned to develop iteratively according to what currently exists and the emerging needs.
People working through CentaOne (disability worker contractors and existing providers such as Local Councils and community care providers) will be able to navigate and transition quickly into NDIS service provision. The region will be able to scale up quickly as CentaCare ensures current, appropriate and easily interpreted information is available with mentoring to support its use. People with disability will have access to appropriate supports as the NDIS becomes available and will have a greater choice of service options than in other remote regions.
The scope of the IWF project was four communities, two of which were predominantly Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and two which were mixed. These are: the Torres Strait, Mapoon, Napranum (south of Weipa), and Cooktown. By project end, 15 people were signed up on CentaOne but the slowness of the NDIS rollout meant limited opportunity to use the platform as it was intended.
Initially the project engaged with providers predominantly in support worker or daily assistance roles. The only other registration group that was engaged related to transport provision (boat transport Torres Strait Islands and taxi Torres Strait Islands). As the project progressed, the range of providers diversified to include bookkeepers, gardeners, cleaners, transport providers, group therapy, a personal trainer, an electrical company installing automated doors and gates for home modifications, an art therapist and a building company.
Although LACs were intended to be in place in January 2018, none were employed by project end, so no rollout preparation was underway.
The approach was designed to be scaled up to also meet the disability workforce needs of other regions across Australia. By the time the project ended Centacare came to believe that one of the best potential audiences for CentaOne was bicultural and bilingual workers, where Centacare already had a strong track record of providing services, and established relationships.
More consultation and exploration with communities was needed than expected. The NDIS remains quite an abstract concept to many individuals and organisations. In this project CentaCare faced the familiar challenge of preparing for something that isn’t yet tangible and concrete, but also developed workable responses to overcome these.
CentaOne staff found that appropriate messaging was critical. Given the thin markets in remote Australia, project staff emphasised strongly the collaborative nature of the proposed platform, that would ‘harness the skills and talents of people already based in the community to meet service gaps’.
CEO Anita Veivers observed: ‘Once we explained we were sharing an opportunity, not telling people what to do, people became receptive’.
Asking advice from community figures and existing organisations, and having repeat conversations and visits were also critical to gaining respect and trust. People in isolated communities needed considerable one-to-one support, which "was very involved as process due to the literacy and comprehension levels...cultural expectations/protocols and comprehension of NDIS impact in the region". The project officers in the Northern Peninsular Area Region and Torres Strait assisted people by:
The Queensland Human Services Quality Framework self-assessment workbook was daunting to many providers and assistance was needed to complete it.
Overall, Centacare discovered that more time, research and contextualisation was needed to make the one-stop-shop website a success. However, the elements they intend to continue with are using the webiste to provide step-by-step assistance to becoming a provider, including simlified resources and assistance for bilcultural workers.
Employment of project staff in remote areas will always be a major roadblock in remote Australia, where appropriately skilled people are in high demand, and difficult to replace. Backup solutions are necessary if key personnel leave, or can’t be sourced quickly.
Workforce solutions are difficult to generate and sustain in the absence of sufficient demand; an out-sourced, distributed model has potential but is intensive to resource because of the variable needs and situations potential providers are in. Considerable time would be needed to develop an integrated, one-stop-shop solution.
Centacare FNQ is planning to continue with the project with a renewed focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from CALD backgrounds and people with a disability entering the NDIS workforce, as well as rural and remote areas. There are currently a limited number of providers in the FNQ region operating in remote areas, with some redesign of the project CentaOne could enable and support development and establishment of more small providers.