Our last blog post highlighted the significant outcomes being achieved by the National Community Connectors Program (CALD) (NCCP). The NCCP is so successful because it uses a community development approach to outreach and engage CALD communities, providing 1:1 support tailored to each person’s cultural and linguistic needs, and building mutual trust and understanding. This model reflects ECSC’s learning of many decades about how to most effectively engage CALD communities and address barriers to accessing services and support. ECSC has long argued that such an approach should be included as an integral part of the NDIS, to ensure that people from CALD backgrounds with disability will “benefit from the NDIS on an equal basis with the broader population” (NDIS CALD Strategy, 2018, p. 4).
Since the time of writing our last blog post, ECSC has been informed that funding for the NCCP will cease on 30 June 2021. This decision was made by the outgoing Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Hon. Stuart Robert MP, and has not been reversed by the incoming Minister, the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC. This is devastating news for the thousands of people from CALD backgrounds with disability across Australia who have not yet accessed the NDIS. Access to the NDIS for people from CALD backgrounds continues to lag significantly behind the general population. Data from the latest NDIS Quarterly Report (Dec 2020) shows that only 9.3% of participants nationally are from a CALD background, despite research showing that CALD people make up around 29% of people living with profound or severe disability in Australia (Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, 2020, Culturally and linguistically diverse engagement principles, p. 5.)
The NDIA’s CALD Strategy and Community Connector Framework show that the NDIA is aware of the barriers that prevent many people from CALD backgrounds with disability from accessing the NDIS, such as “language and cultural differences… discrimination and trauma” (NDIA, 2020, Community Connector Framework, p. 3). These barriers require time, trust, sensitivity and expertise to address. The NCCP has engaged a committed and highly skilled workforce, who have invested time in community outreach, building relationships of trust with community leaders, individuals and families. To withdraw these workers after 11 months will undermine the progress made in building trust and addressing fears around accessing disability supports. Ending the NCCP will also cause confusion for many CALD communities, who have come to understand that they can meet with their local Community Connector for help to access the NDIS.
Across Australia, the NCCP is currently working with hundreds of people from CALD backgrounds with disability, providing culturally appropriate information and support to connect people with the NDIS and to implement their plans. Community Connectors provide essential support that Partners in the Community (PITCs) are unable to provide, either due to the limitations of their role, or practical constraints such as time pressures or organisational policy. This includes meeting face-to-face in people’s homes, providing 1:1 support to participants to collect the evidence they need for access to the NDIS, and providing tailored cultural and language support. Without this support, many people from CALD backgrounds with disability are simply unable to engage with the NDIS at all. If funding for the NCCP ceases, where will CALD people with disability go for the support they need to engage with the system?
We are dismayed that Minister Reynolds and the NDIA seem to view community outreach and culturally appropriate support as a cut-and-paste temporary solution, rather than as a fundamental aspect of ensuring access and equity to the NDIS. After finally funding an approach which is making a real difference in the lives of CALD Australians with disability, they are ending the program after only 11 months, undermining the trust built with communities and losing a valuable workforce. We urge Minister Reynolds to consider the outcomes of the NCCP to date and continue to fund its vital work.
Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant to ECSC