Out Together – Developing an LGBTIQ peer workforce for NDIS service provision

Out Together – Developing an LGBTIQ peer workforce for NDIS service provision
Organisation: Wellways Australia Ltd Partner: GLHV - Gay, Lesbian, Health Victoria Partner: Senswide Partner: National LGBTI Health Alliance
Contact: Rachael Lovelock

This project explored the development of a specialised LGBTIQ+ peer workforce within a NDIS operational environment.

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The Context

Wellways Australia Limited is a not-for-profit mental health and disability support organisation. Their approach is founded on the principle of having support provided by people who have had lived experience as consumers or carers. Wellways has an established working group (‘WellProud’) of staff, volunteers, consumers and carers who identify as LGBTIQ+ (or who are allies).

The Problem

People living with a disability who identify as LGBTIQ+ may experience significant barriers to accessing services and being fully included in the community, often as a result of phobia, stigma or discrimination.

The Solution

Out Together was designed to meet the needs of LGBTIQ+ NDIS participants by providing a LGBTIQ+ workforce who can draw on lived experience expertise in terms of both mental health and sexuality or sexual identity. 

A LGBTIQ+ peer support toolkit has been developed through a co-design process. This resource provides information and resources for current and future NDIS providers, workers, participants and families. It includes a range of online materials, lived experience videos and links to helpful services and information. The toolkit is used in a training package for new support workers, with 3 hours of online training and 6 hours of face-to-face training.

Expected Impact

Resources developed by this project have improved the capacity of Wellways (and other NDIS providers) to recruit, train and support workers who identify as LGBTIQ+ and have their own lived experience of disability. The development of this new workforce will support NDIS participants who identify as LGBTIQ+ to better access and utilise the NDIS.

Inclusivity has also been enhanced more broadly within the organisation because the resources are being used in induction for all workers and discussions around the project within Wellways have raised general awareness of inclusivity for LGBTIQ+ clients and staff.

Importantly, the experiences of the project has lead to a better understanding of the possibilities (and constraints) around enabling peer support under the NDIS.

Stage and Spread

This project drew on established evidence-based approaches in peer support within the mental health sector, applying these more broadly to people with a disability, and targeted them specifically at a marginalised group - NDIS participants who identify as LGBTIQ+. This is a new approach to offering support to this group of participants.

Using a specific recruitment strategy, 13 people who identify as LGBTIQ+ and have lived experience of disability have been engaged by Wellways and trained as peer workers using the co-designed set of resources. These support workers are working with participants who identify as LGBTIQ+ within the project and other participants in Wellways’ broader service provision across the regions of North East Melbourne and Western Victoria.

NDIS participants entering the scheme who identify as LGBTIQ+ were invited to take part in the project through communications with them directly, their family/carers, NDIS support coordinators and existing support services as appropriate. The 13 LGBTIQ+ peer workers provided support to 14 NDIS participants who identify as LGBTIQ+ (and 87 others), according to their plans.

Over the 12-month project, Wellways were able to retain 75% of Out Together workers, and almost all workers who did leave did so for positive reasons (e.g., moving to another area, moving to another more senior position). In comparison some of Wellways other NDIS programs have experienced up to 50% turnover of staff within the first 12 months.

The Out Together project has been well received throughout the community, resulting in engagement and enquiries from LGBTIQ+ specific services (such as Pride Vic, and LGBTIQ+ educators). Wellways presented on the project at the Health In Difference (National LGBTI Health) conference in April 2018. The presentation was well received and resulted in a number of specific project enquiries.

Lessons and Insights

The project required a focused and enthusiastic champion to recruit and train people to the peer support worker role. This was provided by the project manager.

Focus groups run with participants revealed their increased sense of empowerment and higher levels of self-esteem. Workers and managers also expressed very positive responses, saying that the project engaged staff’s core values and motivated them in their work and that they enjoyed the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and expertise to development of project resources that would influence organisational culture, policy and practice.

Roadblocks and Risks

One of the main challenges was understanding the paths to providing peer support within the NDIS operational environment. This was both in terms of being able to offer the amount of training needed to prepare support workers for a peer experience role, and the finding ways to include the approach in participants’ plans.

While establishing the project within Wellways the following challenges were highlighted:

  • LGBTIQ+ service model in mainstream service has highlighted LGBTIQ+ cultural competency gaps in organisation and systems.
  • Wellways did not have an organisational process or policy in obtaining personal information about someone’s LGBTIQ+ status or a clear reason to ask for this information.

As a result, service policies and training will be co-produced, developed and implemented regarding asking about LGBTIQ+ status and how to safely and respectfully record and handle the information.

Other lessons include:

  • Relationship building, networking and promotion of the project with the other NDIS and LGBTIQ+ specific services is essential to engagement and sustainability.
  • Financial implications of providing the appropriate level of supervision and support for lived experience workers. Finding opportunities for lived experience workers to articulate and express challenges/vulnerabilities that arise from applying lived experience in the context of the NDIS service model.
  • Supervision of lived experience workers is a specialised skill set. Training is required to do this appropriately and to support non-lived experience team members to understand the differing boundaries that come with the model.