Early Childhood Foundational Supports – the Lobbying Begins

With a decade of the NDIA behind us, it may well feel as if the Australian Early Childhood Intervention sector is broken. Then last year as part of the 2023 NDIS review we were alerted to the sweeping changes to the Early Childhood Intervention landscape. Meanwhile as the sector nervously awaits the outcome of the NDIS Bill the chatter in the social universe is heating up, stakeholders are gathering and positioning for the ears and purse strings of various state and federal influencers. This pending reform will potentially see a sizable shift away from direct NDIS funded supports for many children, a back to the future moment perhaps? 

Early Childhood Intervention Then and Now 

Pre NDIS, there were supports available through the Early Childhood Not For Profit organisations which included playgroups, sibling supports, parent supports and workshops and training that were significantly funded. The private sector were also active, at times being differently agile and modern with their service delivery models compared to the “big guys” Much of the work was done within the children’s homes, day care and preschools. Many of the children supported were considered ‘at risk’ for a number of reasons and were often without a formal diagnosis. The introduction of federal Helping Children with Autism and Better Start funded programs enabled some children to access extra therapy support privately which created more capacity elsewhere. However, there were also significant waiting lists. 

The introduction of the NDIS saw the state and territory governments pretty much shut down their funded Early Childhood Intervention programs. Meanwhile the children who did receive NDIS plans enjoyed the choice and control over their services and accessed the businesses that they wanted to. Initially, the way that NDIS Plans were designed discouraged inter and transdisciplinary approaches with it’s line by line allocation of funding and this drove a rapid move to siloed services. The private therapy market exploded and much of the talent that was sitting within the Early Childhood NFPs moved out to the private sector.  

It became apparent that if children were not eligible for an NDIS Plan, there was little to no funding available for families to access the supports their children needed. Predictably, yet the government underestimated, many more children are accessing the NDIS than expected. 

As for best clinical practice, current NDIS pricing rules make supporting children in their own environment difficult. Further, the children have grown up and headed off the school with their NDIS plans and therapy teams only to experience the school gate sometimes being closed to their skilled clinicians and advisors. Once at school, the opportunity to collaborate with carers, siblings, extended family changes significantly and whole new teams need to be built with educators. Fair to say its complicated, inconsistent and that there’s room for improvement.  

Stakeholders are Organising 

As with all things government dollars, the more organised provider collaboratives are swiftly building their case for how they believe services should look in the future Foundational Supports Early Childhood world. A recent document published on the Playgroup NSW website indicated that in NSW at least, the traditional Early Childhood Intervention organisations have launched from the starting blocks with a polished and considered statement of priorities that outline their key lobbying points.  

Professionals and Researchers in Early Intervention (PRECI), an organisation aimed at connecting research with professionals working within the sector are presenting in the coming weeks regarding their findings on Best Practice in this area. Highly recommend attending this, you can find the link on our Allied Health Business Brilliance Facebook Group. 

Concerns abound from the private sector about how they will represent themselves and where they will fit within this change. The Early Intervention Organisations are arguably in the best position, potentially, to provide those group programs that are so fundamental for whole family capacity building, Key Worker style services and funded training. This raises a question concerning who will deliver these programs given that nowadays a great deal of the experienced and skilled clinical workforce is in the private sector.  Interestingly the Allied Health Businesses they represent now have extensive in house talent, commercial smarts and the appetite to serve diverse Foundational Supports markets. Problem being that the private sector however is not nearly so organised,  currently lacks a collective voice and has understandably all but given up on the professional peak bodies representing them.  

So what’s it going to take?  

An Anxious Wait 

Meanwhile we wait for the legislation to be finalised and we continue to scan for sightings of state and territory implementation of alleged Foundational Support funding. All providers, whether they be Early Childhood Intervention NFPs or private sector businesses are well aware of the disruption ahead.  

There will be a number of children who are currently accessing NDIS funding who will no longer do so and it is expected that few children will be eligible for NDIS funding in the future and or be directed towards still uncertain Foundational Supports. Allied Health Business Owners continue to forecast, lets use the word guestimate, referral rates, retention metrics and client lifetime value whilst mapping alternative Foundation Supports, funding streams and competing service offers. All in a days work for sure, sigh, slugs coffee, as they engage their superpowers of scoping opportunity and adapting effectively.  

Opportunity and adaptability have been our constant conversation topics with our Nacre Consulting members these past twelve plus months. Taking action based on solid assumptions may alleviate some current anxiety. Below we outline a handful of tactics Business Owners can be doing to get more engaged in the NDIS Reform conversation.   

Act Now 

These simple actions have a nothing – to – lose outcome. While we wait for more information, you do have the control to organise within your own business and this will put you in a great position to speak with confidence to the decision makers when the time come. 

  1. Read everything. Attend events. Discuss. Ask questions, many many questions.  
  2. Step into your director big boots. Forecast for best and worst scenarios, update your risk assessments and mitigations, get strategic. You can then act with confidence over the next period of time knowing that you have a plan for everything 
  3. Access support for yourself and your business brilliance.. Book a Power Call with us for a quick chat on how we could assist you in your Allied Health Business Adventure .  
  4. Connect with your local children’s services. Daycare, preschool, schools – make yourself known and valuable.  Offer training, information sessions, resources that they may find helpful.  
  5. You team are your best marketers. Train them well to ensure that the services your business deliver are above excellent and that your referrers, stakeholders and clients know it.  
  6. Coach your team to establish and maintain on your businesses behalf, great relationships with any children’s services that they are currently involved with.  
  7. Gather regular feedback about the services your business provides from clients and stakeholders.  
  8. Consider how you can increase the support that you are offering within the child’s natural environments. Best practice overwhelmingly supports this – as can be seen in the recent article in The Conversation by Andrew Whitehouse, David Trembath and Sarah Pillar.  
  9. Encourage joint sessions with other disciplines where possible. I can personally attest to the learning that happens purely through immersion and joint goal setting and session planning. This will warm your team for a potential Key Worker model down the track. 

That’s It For Now 

We will be diligently continuing to watch for any information that happens to appear regarding Foundational Supports. This information will be dropped into our Facebook group – Allied Health Business Brilliance if you are not already a member, please request to join now so that we can get that information to you as efficiently as possible. 

Chantelle Robards
Chantelle Robards, Specialist Coach at Nacre Consulting has a long history with supporting the NDIS marketplace through provision of technical information and advocacy. As a speech pathologist who continues to support a small caseload she has comprehensive insight into the business community especially with regards to the NDIS. Chantelle's ultimate goal is to ensure an ethical and thriving market place that provides the very best of support to all Australians who are seeking it.

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