In late 2017, the Department of Communities (Communities) investigated the feasibility of funding a new, robust Systemic Disability Advocacy program. The objective was to evaluate the introduction of a vigorous and effective Systemic Disability Advocacy approach within Western Australia to ensure systemic issues faced by people with disability could be identified and addressed.
The National Disability Advocacy Framework defines Systemic Disability Advocacy as working to introduce and influence longer term change to ensure the rights of people with disability are attained and upheld to positively affect the quality of their lives.
Advocacy is a key element of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) 2010-2020 under the policy area of ‘Rights Protection, Justice and Legislation’ and features in the State’s NDS WA Plan 2017-18. It assists people to engage with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and obtain appropriate supports. In addition to direct benefits for people with disability, advocacy brings benefits for government, as it contributes to the early identification of systemic issues that impact on the outcomes and efficiency of publicly funded services.
To inform a thorough consideration of such an important matter, Communities undertook extensive research to learn what other jurisdictions were doing in the systemic advocacy area. Having completed desktop research, Communities recognised the importance of consulting extensively with key stakeholders who were actively participating in the disability advocacy space.
Such consultation initially entailed holding a public forum, facilitated by an external consultant, in which advocacy organisations, carer stakeholders and people with disability were invited to participate. The outcomes of the forum were inconclusive; and, it was considered that further, more in depth consultation was required to fully inform the direction forward. This took the form of meeting one-on-one with 32 carer stakeholders or representatives of advocacy organisations. The discussion process was intensive and enabled greater community input while managing stakeholder concerns. The feedback received was positive and provided a greater insight into the thinking of the various stakeholders interviewed.
An extensive number of advocacy insights were gained from the consultation. In large part, they reflect issues that are faced by a broad spectrum of people in the community; however, challenges are amplified when such issues need to be faced by an individual with disability. The issues identified were multifaceted and complex, including, but not limited to NDIS transition, housing, health, abuse and neglect, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, employment, finance, mental health and accessibility.
Through the process, fundamental principles underpinning Systemic Disability Advocacy Services were identified. It was evident that a synergetic system of advocacy across the sector was welcomed, along with the acceptance that systemic advocacy is longitudinal in nature and may take years to achieve tangible results. Inclusive advocacy for all disability types where practical, whilst drawing on the specialist skills of some organisations, is integral. Demonstrating outcomes is critical, as well as the department having discretion to partition funding based on cohort criteria. Advocates also indicated they would appreciate the opportunity to set the parameters of their work in discussion with Communities.
When considering the desired attributes of a Systemic Disability Advocacy service a theme of collaboration emerged. Coordination between advocates, working together to identify issues before they become critical and the ability to leverage existing expertise in the advocacy sector. Sector development and capacity building was another common thread across the consultation process, with organisations needing to recruit, retain and develop quality personnel and engage a mix of advocacy skills, knowledge and backgrounds into the sector. This connected to appropriate engagement with broad and diverse cohorts and ensuring there is geographical cover which is delivered by a stable workforce. There is an ever-changing mix of issues in the advocacy space and advocates would like flexibility in addressing these issues while demonstrating outcomes and value for money.
There were three current gaps identified through the consultation process. These include:
- core funding for independent systemic advocacy;
- enablers that help stakeholders work together effectively; and
- and a strong link with individual advocacy.
Core funding would support independent systemic advocates outside government to influence change with a degree of discretion about how they operate. With such funding, allocation needs to be subject to a transparent process. This includes ensuring that all proposals accepted represent value for money, overhead costs are realistic within the context of the quality of the proposal and variables such as specific needs of certain cohorts (by way of example, interpreters) including rural/regional/remote recipients are considered.
Enablers are identified as systems or processes that would help stakeholders work together more effectively. Examples of such could include increased access to decision makers, a Disability Representation Program, peer support and/or self-advocacy, systemic advocacy forum, and an online hub. These options would require ongoing commitment from both advocates and government to be effective.
The State Government funded $2.2 million per annum for an Individual Disability Advocacy program. Insights can be gained from the common issues that emerged from this program and a link with individual advocacy would allow information gained from advocates working with individuals to be used as an evidence base for systemic advocacy.
An extensive report has been assembled and the Department of Communities will be working with the Hon Stephen Dawson MLC, Minister for Disability Services to address three key areas. These include core funding to support the continuation of systemic advocacy through a collaborative approach, support mechanisms and processes (enablers) to help stakeholders work together and incorporation of the insights already gained from the Individual Disability Advocacy program.
The consultation approach for Systemic Disability Advocacy has provided a great understanding of the needs of the advocacy sector in ensuring the issues faced by people with disability are heard and responded to.
Department of Communities