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Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services provide culturally safe pathway to NDIS

Rachael Knowles -

In April 2019 the Commonwealth Government announced the investment of $4.6 million into Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) working within remote regions of Western Australia, including the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields.

This funding created a relationship between ACCHS and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and provided them with the capacity to improve community access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Supporting seven independent ACCHS, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) has been a key player in rolling out the NDIS in its region.

The NDIS provides support for those under 65-years-old, living with a permanent and significant disability. The scheme is not a welfare system, and is designed specifically to support people in attaining independence and achieving goals.

Through the Kimberley NDIS ACCHS Partnership, KAMS has received funding from the NDIA to support the promotion of the NDIS and provide accessible and culturally safe pathways for eligible participants.

KAMS NDIS Regional Coordinator, Linda McSherry, explained the process of getting people to apply for the scheme is mainly coordinated through Remote Community Connectors.

"We market the NDIS to the community through Remote Community Connectors, which are in the communities we service. They talk to people one-on-one or through promotional pamphlets, about what [the NDIS is] and how they can use us to get them access," Ms McSherry said.

Cross-sector collaboration

Due to the size and remoteness of the Kimberley, KAMS has had to utilise organisations that sit outside of the health sphere.

"Some of the Remote Community Connectors are from partnered organisations that aren't health services. They are more community service organisations, working on community development and employment projects. Places like Kununurra Waringarri Aboriginal Corporation and in the Derby region it's Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation.

"And we employ community members that are established within community already."

Once individuals that may eligible for the NDIS are identified, we have Evidence, Access and Planning Coordinators who help guide participants through the application process.

"With consent, these staff will access existing health records to gather evidence and organise GP appointments if necessary. They will do an access request form which tests the eligibility and goes to the National Access Team at NDIA.

"The NDIA uses a team that have had cultural awareness training and understand the issues surrounding Kinship ... they are more personal. They understand that you don't need a court order to be a guardian, such as a grandparent looking after a child," Ms McSherry said.

"They will notify the participant they have made access, and if the participant has stated they want KAMS or one of our partners involved in the process, we'll be notified and will help them with pre-planning."

The NDIS is structured to fit around an individual's needs and goals, and through the program KAMS can create deep connections and relationships with community members and help them determine their wants and needs.

"The NDIS is very individualised ... there are people within community that have never had someone ask them that before. So, we are there to help them sit and think about these things and then to support them in their planning meeting," Ms McSherry said.

"We are finding people who have struggled their whole life and have never had that support, they've been looked after by family. They are having the opportunity to get that support."

New year developments

Due to KAMS' consortium approach, the rollout of the NDIS across the Kimberley has been efficient. However, there are some bumps in the program which are high on the agenda to address in 2020.

One struggle is that being within a remote area means limited service providers, resulting in a gap in care available.

"It is a catch-22, you need to have people on the scheme to be able to see that there is a gap in the market.

"[These are] potentially massive areas to look at in the new year, we are working with the NDIA to extend service provision where necessary."

However, for now KAMS has identified a solution to ensure the continuing support of community.

"In some of our communities, even though the local community isn't a service provider, the individual ... is able to say, I want the council to look after my daily support.

"They don't necessarily have to be a service provider ... as long as they have an Australian Business Number, which means we can work within community organisations and businesses.

"It avoids travel and stuff like that, particularly with daily support as it needs to be community based," Ms McSherry said.

In 2020, KAMS will fully implement the Kimberley Early Childhood Support Program which sees the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach applied to children under the age of seven who have an identified developmental delay.

"It will be an early intervention approach to prevent people ending up on the NDIS. There isn't a need for formal diagnosis, just a professional assessment that states the child has a developmental delay. We have allied health teams made up of specialist nurses, child psychologists, speech therapists and physiotherapists. These teams will work with the child and their family to treat the developmental delays," Ms McSherry said.

"It's a very community-based program, we will have family support workers in each health clinic who will work with the families as well as day cares, play groups and schools to ensure the children are receiving ongoing support in between the allied health team visits."

This program is also funded by the NDIA.

KAMS is an active player in advancing the health and wellbeing of the Kimberley and is dedicated to continuing its outstanding service well into the coming new year.

By Rachael Knowles


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