By Daisy Prasad, Senior Physiotherapist, The Benevolent Society
We know the importance of the early years in shaping a child’s future potential. As such, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has dedicated organisations across the country who specialise in working with families to deliver an early childhood approach for children under seven years, as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
These organisations are known as Early Childhood (EC) partners. The Benevolent Society is the EC partner for Brisbane, Logan, Redlands and Moreton Bay (QLD).
Whether your child has been diagnosed with a disability, or you have concerns their development might be delayed compared to their peers, your local EC partner can help you to understand the support pathways available to your child to ensure they reach their full potential into adulthood.
The early childhood approach is not intended to replace existing mainstream or community supports, such as those offered by medical professionals, community health clinics or schools. Instead, the EC approach aims to work in collaboration with existing services to provide a wrap-around support system for children and their families during the critical early years.
Here’s some more information about the NDIS process.
Contact your local EC partner
A primary caregiver (legal guardian) can phone their local EC partner at any time to discuss their child’s developmental issues and supports available given their individual circumstances. This can happen whether or not you have previously engaged with health professionals or your child has a diagnosis. During the initial contact, the EC partner will ask you whether your child has a formal diagnosis or any existing reports from health/education professionals, however neither are requirements to access services.
Alternatively, a health professional or preferred advocate can complete a referral (with your consent) on your behalf and send this to your EC partner directly.
The Benevolent Society provides the option of a web-based referral form: https://www.benevolent.org.au/referrals/ndis-eca-support-referral
You can find your local EC partner here: www.ndis.gov.au/contact/locations
What happens next?
Based on the information you provide, the EC partner will guide you through one of the following pathways:
Option A: For children with mild developmental concerns who can be supported by mainstream and community services: The EC partner will link the family to those supports, such as playgroups, parenting programs, and referral to community health services. Child development resources and strategies will be provided that can be safely implemented in the home setting by the parent/carer to promote childhood development. After three months, the EC partner will follow up (if required) to check on the child’s developmental progress.
Option B: For children with moderate-severe developmental issues: The EC partner will arrange an initial needs assessment to determine which pathway(s) will best support the child and family. A decision will ultimately be made as to whether the child/family will be best supported via existing community supports (Option A), requires a period of Early Supports* or will benefit from access to NDIS funding (Option C).
The overarching goal of Early Supports is to help the parent/carer to be better able to support their child’s development. At The Benevolent Society, Early Supports may include any combination of group intervention, individualised sessions, parent information sessions, provision of childhood development resources and linkage to community organisations.
Option C: For children who have a permanent impairment OR diagnosed disability OR have significant developmental issues as evidenced by reports from medical and allied health professionals: The EC partner will support the family to request access to the NDIS. For eligibility information, please refer to: https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/operational-guidelines/access-ndis-operational-guideline/access-ndis-early-intervention-requirements
A child in your care is eligible to access funding via the NDIS – what happens next?
If a child in your care is eligible for funding via an individualised NDIS plan, the EC partner will help you to gather the necessary supporting documentation (e.g. diagnosis letter, reports) and then apply for access to the scheme. Final decisions around eligibility and access to the scheme lies with the NDIA.
A child in your care has been granted access to the NDIS
Your EC partner will contact you to advise of the approved application and then arrange an NDIS planning meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to further understand your child’s individual needs, and identify NDIS goals to then make a recommendation to the NDIA as to the level of funding and types of supports required within the NDIS plan. The plan will be sent to the NDIA for approval. Final decisions around budgets and services included in the plan are made by the NDIA.
Once the NDIS plan has been approved
Once the plan has been approved, the EC partner will contact you to arrange an implementation meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to walk you through your approved plan and help you to get started in using your NDIS funding to engage with service providers.
Your EC partner will monitor fund utilisation and be available for support throughout the life of the plan. Ultimately, parents & carers have choice and control around utilisation of their NDIS funding and must adhere to ‘reasonable and necessary’ criteria as per the NDIS website: https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/supports-funded-ndis/reasonable-and-necessary-supports
If at any time, your child’s circumstances change and/or the NDIS plan is not meeting the child’s needs, your EC partner will work with you to review the plan.
Reaching the end of the first plan – what should you expect?
The EC partner will reach out to you prior to plan expiry to discuss your child’s progress and to determine support requirements moving forward. They will request information from current treating allied health professionals around their recommendations moving forward. In some cases, a decision will be made that another round of funding is required and you will be supported through the review process. In other cases, children may no longer require ongoing early intervention support as the child may have met their goals and/or may now be adequately supported via community and mainstream avenues.
If your child requires additional funding and ongoing support via the NDIS
If your child meets the eligibility criteria for funding beyond the first plan, your EC partner will work with you to develop the next NDIS plan, based on recommendations from allied health professionals involved in the child’s care.
Your child is about to turn seven – what happens from here?
When a child turns seven, the EC partner will help identify whether they need to transition to full scheme NDIS to continue accessing funded supports. The EC partner will facilitate a handover to the Local Area Coordinator (LAC) to ensure continuity of services. Find your nearest LAC: https://www.ndis.gov.au/contact/locations
In some cases, it may be determined that the child no longer requires early intervention supports funded by the NDIS. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis as to the best pathway of support beyond the ECA journey. Access to full scheme NDIS has separate eligibility criteria. Please see: https://www.ndis.gov.au/applying-access-ndis/am-i-eligible
*The Early Supports pathways may be recommended for children who require a level of support somewhere between options A and C, as well as cases where the level of support required is currently unclear. Note that the Early Supports pathway will vary between EC partner organisations. After a period of Early Supports, the EC partner may then recommend the parent/carer applies for NDIS funding for their child (Pathway C).