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A day in the life of a support coordinator

Support coordinators play a key role in the delivery of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), supporting participants to implement their plans and exercise choice and control over the supports and services they work with.

Support coordination is a capacity building support that assists participants to:

  • understand and use their NDIS plans to pursue their goals;
  • connect with NDIS-registered and unregistered providers, community supports, and government services; and
  • build their confidence and skills to coordinate and leverage their supports.

Unlike local area coordination, a free-of-charge service, support coordination is NDIS funded, and not every participant has the relevant funding included in their plan.

My Plan Manager recently interviewed Emma, Managing Director of One Tribe Australia, a multidisciplinary provider offering everything from support coordination to social work, disability support work to complex coaching. We asked Emma to walk us through a day in the life of a support coordinator.

Hi Emma! Can you explain what a support coordinator does?

A support coordinator assists participants with NDIS funding to help them implement their plans and build their capacity. They help people set goals and connect them to the right service providers to achieve them.

They will check that people are receiving quality services and have continuity of care and help them prepare for plan reviews by gathering evidence to show what their needs are.

Support coordinators often work with people with complex disabilities who may experience crisis situations. A support coordinator can help them through a crisis and check they have the supports they need to be able to do that.

How did you get started in support coordination?

My background is in vocational rehabilitation – I used to help people get back to work after an injury. When I had my own work injury and was unable to work, I decided to pivot my career and become a dog trainer.

A man I knew whose son has autism and obsessive compulsive disorder asked me to train his dog, and when I got there, I saw they had absolutely no support. I’d never worked in disability before, but I did have the right qualifications and transferable skills, so I offered to become his support worker. I was able to help him do things he’d never done before, like walk on a treadmill. It sounds very simple, but it took months and a lot of courage to get to that point.

We worked together for 18 months, and during that time I started doing support coordination for Mind Australia. After a six month hiatus to finish my Masters degree in social work, they asked me to be his support coordinator too. That’s a nutshell version of how it started.

What’s the difference between a support coordinator and a local area coordinator?

A Local Area Coordinator (LAC) is a starting point for people who want to request access to the NDIS. They help people to gather information that the NDIS will turn into a plan. A LAC can then help a participant to understand and implement their plan – however, if they require extra support, that’s when a participant may turn to a support coordinator.

A LAC is free, whereas a support coordinator is funded in a plan and has a stronger focus on capacity building.

How would someone get support coordination funded in their plan? 

The funding provided in each plan is based on the planner’s assessment of what is reasonable and necessary for a participant to pursue their goals. When making this decision, the planner will also consider informal supports, such as family, friends and other relevant services. If there are factors that hinder a participant from engaging with support services, such as limited informal supports, a mental health condition or difficulties with cognitive processing etc, the planner can provide additional funding for a support coordinator. 

A really good planner will automatically identify this need when the plan is being developed, but sometimes participants need to request this service to ensure they receive the most appropriate supports. It is important to have a good understanding of the available options and gather as much supporting evidence as possible prior to commencing the planning process.

What’s a typical day in the life of a support coordinator?

A typical day could look like making phone calls, sending emails and meeting service providers to discuss a participant’s plan, their supports and capacity. It might involve sourcing providers to connect participants to, writing letters and reports to demonstrate a participant’s needs for a plan review, home visits to run through a participant’s plan goals and helping them to develop strategies to achieve them, or checking service agreements to make sure participants can afford the services they want to access.

What’s the breakdown of remote services vs client face time?

It depends on the participant and their plan. It’s really important not to burn through a participant’s NDIS funds for the sake of it, so if we can provide a good service and achieve their goals without having to see them regularly in person, we are happy to do that. During a first meeting with a participant, we will look at what’s covered in their plan in detail and ask them how they would like to work with us.  

Do you assist people to find service providers?

Yes. If a participant wants help to find a provider, we may give them a shortlist of three to 10 options, depending on what services are available. We are constantly looking for new service providers to give clients greater choice and control with their NDIS funds.

At what point do you recommend plan management?

A lot of referrals that come through to us are for participants who already have plan management – however, it depends on how new their plan is. If it’s an older plan, they may already have a plan manager and we will talk with them about that to make sure they are getting the support they need. If they want to switch, then we will assist them to find different options and explain the pros and cons of each provider.

Every NDIS participant has the right to exercise choice and control over the supports, services and providers in their life – and if they aren’t working for you, you have every right to change. The great news is, you can switch to My Plan Manager at any time, at no out-of-pocket cost to you. Click here to find out more.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face at work?

You can work super hard and gather every piece of evidence, and a plan may still come back with less funding than expected. There may be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the NDIS to get a plan reviewed and supporting the participant to demonstrate what their needs are. This is where it’s really crucial for a participant to have experience in their corner.

Do you help NDIS participants with getting a decision reviewed?

Yes, if it’s within 90 days of getting a decision, we can help them to seek a review. If it’s after 90 days, we’d look at a change of circumstances, which is a different route, but a similar process.

Often people come to us with a plan that a LAC has helped them put together and the first thing we do is check it covers what they need. If it doesn’t, we may need to help them gather additional evidence, like reports from allied health professionals, that will assist them to have it reviewed or changed.

You are now an employer of several support coordinators, as well as other disability sector professionals. What drives you to succeed and what is your personal motivator for building your business?

Someone close to me had a significant mental health condition, and I saw the impacts of that during my childhood – but at the time, there was little understanding or support for people facing mental health challenges. It was brushed under the carpet and nobody spoke about it as it was such a taboo subject. Unfortunately, this meant that my loved one didn’t get the help they needed and they lived an unhappy life until they passed away. If adequate support had been available, this beautiful and talented person, who had so much potential, may still be with us. Instead, they were incredibly let down by the system.

I therefore have a very strong sense of social justice and feel that everyone should get a fair go.  I find it frustrating when I see people constantly hitting barriers that stop them from doing, often simple things. I will go above and beyond to support someone to achieve a better quality of life because I know exactly what they are going through and I seek team members who are on the same page. Everyone in our team have lived experience but they also have really solid case management and clinical skills, so not only can they genuinely empathise with people they support, but they can also take action and help put strategies in place to facilitate real change. 

The motivation that underpins everything is found in the little wins – those moments when something we have done has made a tangible difference to someone. I may not have been able to help my loved one, but if I can help other people, then their experiences haven’t been in vain.

What are your top tips for support coordinators?

  1. Honour your word, because people living with disability have often been let down a lot, and they’ve had to fight really hard to get where they are. It’s really important that people know you genuinely care and are invested in them, and actions will speak louder than words.
  2. Being creative is really important. You can follow the steps of being a support coordinator, or you can think outside the box and find creative solutions to achieving plan goals. For example, I’ve had clients who’ve really wanted assistance dogs, which the NDIS doesn’t typically fund. However, if they have a dog already, they may be able to employ a support worker who has dog training skills.
  3. Set expectations and boundaries – this is super important for mental health! If you respond to participants after hours, it sets an expectation and makes people think you will always be available. The problem is this can lead to burnout. Be careful about encouraging unrealistic expectations and be very clear about what you can do and when you can do it. 
  4. Be persistent and don’t give up. Working in this space can be really challenging, with a lot of knockbacks. You can put your heart and soul into something, and it may not work out how you expected. When this happens, it‘s important to pick yourself up and try again – repeatedly. Whether you’re a support worker, a support coordinator, or an allied health provider, I think being persistent is an important skill for everyone to develop. If you have a great service and are passionate about what you do, keep going, because people will see that.

For more information visit onetribeaustralia.com.au.

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My Plan Manager: NDIS Plan Management