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Stand By Me – Don’t let time run out on disability advocacy in NSW

ECSC’s disability advocacy program, Ethnic People with Disabilities (EPDP), has been working alongside people with disability, their families and communities from CALD backgrounds for nearly 40 years, to promote human rights and equal access to services and the community – but that could all change by the end of this year.

Funding for disability advocacy services in NSW expires on 30 June, with some services receiving a 6-month extension. Last year’s Disability Advocacy Review found that “The need for advocacy will continue to be an important part of the lives of people with disability to ensure the continued promotion, protection and security of their rights, and enable their genuine participation in the community” (Report p.8 ). People with disability who have accessed EPDP have told us, “Nobody helps us like you do” (Feedback received from parents of child with disability, accessing EPDP). Tens of thousands of people have signed the #StandByMe petition calling on the NSW government to fund disability advocacy into the future. Yet, the NSW government has not released any further details about the future of disability advocacy in NSW and has not confirmed any funding past December 2020.

ECSC has long argued that the state government holds a key responsibility in promoting the human rights, access and equity of its own residents – a responsibility that cannot be shirked by relying on the NDIS to meet all the needs of people with disability living in NSW. This is particularly true of disability advocacy. The NSW government has long-term relationships with disability advocacy organisations across NSW that play critical roles in their local communities or in providing specialist support to those who need it. These organisations employ staff with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. It is important to build upon these relationships and ensure that the knowledge we have gained is not lost moving forward. Disability advocacy providers across NSW need certainty about their funding arrangements to be able to plan for the future and keep employing the staff who work with them.

It’s also critical that future disability advocacy funding builds upon the knowledge, networks and expertise that has been built in working with particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with disability from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. ECSC has invested decades building our knowledge about the complexities of disability in cross-cultural contexts. We have taken the time to build strong relationships with CALD communities at the local level, giving us opportunity to engage with CALD people with disability and their families who would otherwise ‘fall through the cracks’ of the NDIS and other service systems. This work is built upon relationships. Often, the people with disability and their families with whom we work have very limited understanding of the service system; they may not remember the name of our organisation, but remember the name of the staff member who has taken the time to build trust and rapport. When the time comes to refer to another service or staff member, it is important to do so in a relational way to respect the trust that has been built.

Without certainty about future funding, all this work is at risk. Grassroots organisations like ours need certainty to plan for the future, retain our staff, and where necessary, support our clients through change. We call on the NSW Government to make it a priority to commit to funding the future of disability advocacy, before it’s too late.

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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