The team at Mackay Advocacy Inc. is managing case loads that are up to three times higher than they should be, as more people with disabilities fall through the cracks of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
While funding by both state and federal governments has continued, the scope of the funding has been re-proportioned – putting Mackay Advocacy Inc. in an uncertain position over whether the team can continue face-to-face independent advocacy from 1 January 2022.
Advocate Juanita Adamson says the situation is challenging, particularly as the team faces a rising demand for services.
“We’re one of the agencies that don’t just turn people away, because these people are desperate and they’re very vulnerable,” Ms Adamson said.
“It’s hard to say no, especially when we’re dealing with people which are really at risk.”
Image: Business Coordinator Melissa Martin with Advocates Juanita Adamson and Karen Casteel
Outreach Advocate Karen Casteel says they are seeing a worrying trend of new NDIS plans being made without clients, or their families, being involved in them.
“We’re seeing a systemic issue right now of clients getting brand new NDIS plans with significant funding cuts,” Ms Casteel said.
“They might have gone from 12 month plans to two year plans, so not only is there less funding, but it has to last you two years.
“Other plans are being rolled over, without even telling the clients or their families.”
The team says urgent action is needed to ensure there is adequate support for people who are not eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“One of our clients hadn’t made NDIS access yet and her father was pushing her to the doctor in a wheelbarrow because they couldn’t afford a wheelchair, so we’re in the process of having her multiple physical impairments accepted,” Ms Adamson said.
“With other clients, we’re in the middle of trying to have their disabilities recognised, or we’re dealing with various issues around financial exploitation and child safety.
“You do worry about what will happen to our clients. If independent advocacy doesn’t exist for people with disabilities, we’ll only see more vulnerabilities.”
Outreach advocate Karen Casteel said their clients also face major challenges in navigating systems and services.
“Since COVID, there’s been so much more focus on the digital framework, but that actually leaves our clients more vulnerable. It’s a massive barrier,” Ms Casteel said.
“Our clients might go to organisations to deal with tenancy issues or they go to community legal services, but they will say that they can’t represent them because they don’t have capacity. So we are dealing with a lot of different issues that other organisations are being funded to do.”
Despite the current challenges, the team is committed to their work and supporting their clients.
“If we’re busy, that means someone’s suffering. But we are all passionate,” Ms Adamson said.
“We get here every day and you really see the joy in the outcomes when you’re making a difference to people’s lives.”
Mackay Advocacy Inc. is a non-profit community organisation that provides free and confidential independent advocacy for people with disabilities in Mackay, Whitsunday and Hinterland areas.