A community program is helping families from Chinese backgrounds to better navigate the national disability system by providing them with a support network and easy access to information.

Research conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales found the program had enhanced participants’ knowledge about the National Disablity Insurance Scheme after its first stage.

The report Culturally Responsive Disability Support-Community Access Network (CAN), published by the university, said the program is on track to achieve its intended outcomes.

The Community Access Network (CAN) was started by St Vincent de Paul Society NSW (SVDPNSW) in 2018 to support families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

It targets four language groups including Arabic, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese.

The UNSW reserarch focused on Australian Chinese communities because it wanted to focus on one cultural group.

CAN has three goals:

  • Equip participants from CALD backgrounds with the skills and knowledge to engage effectively with the NDIS
  • Develop a network of relationships with key stakeholders and participants from culturally diverse backgrounds
  • Enhance SVDPNSW Local Area Coordinators (LACs) knowledge about cultural responsiveness.

Language-friendly environments

Participants are provided information through groups sessions with each focusing on a different topic about the NDIS and one-to-one consultations.

The language-friendly environments include interpreters and bilingual SVDPNSW LACs to make it easier for participants to voice their concerns.

One participant with a disability had received NDIS funding before attending CAN but had not contacted his allocated support coordinator, and no one had checked to see if he had. He was not using his NDIS funding that had been available for almost three months.

“He expressed his helplessness to the bilingual SVDPNSW LAC at CAN, telling her that he did not know how to complain because he did not speak English and did not know how to start using his NDIS funding,” the report said.

Strengthening social networks

CAN encouraged participants to share information with each other to strengthen their social networks, and also introduced them to NDIS stakeholder organisation representatives.

During stage one of the program, two mothers met and shared their experiences of raising teenage sons with high-functioning autism.

“One of these mothers stated that the most two valuable benefits she reaped from CAN were the knowledge about NDIS and opportunity to meet the other mother,” the report said.

“Most of the other participants who were interviewed reported that they did not do much socialising and follow-up networking outside the sessions because they did not find people who had similar disability needs or NDIS experiences.”

The guest speakers also saw the value of the program.

“A guest speaker of CAN who is from an NDIS stakeholder organisation said that she liked the design of CAN and she suggested her team to employ CAN’s approach and launch projects for people from culturally diverse backgrounds,” the report said.

The staff that ran the CAN program also benefited, with SVDPNSW LACs saying they gained a better understanding of Australian Chinese groups.

“Some of the lessons were that the Australian Chinese participants seemed to take longer time than the other two cultural groups to open up with the staff about their comments on CAN and concerns about NDIS,” the report said.

In particular, participants identified the following as being important qualities of SVDPNSW LACs:

  • professional commitment to quality service provision
  • reliable support
  • professional knowledge.

Despite these positive outcomes, the program did encounter several challenges, such as more carers than people with disabilities attending sessions, and some topics for sessions being irrelevant to participants.

Stage one of the program was completed from March to December 2018. It tested the suitability of the CAN model for the target language group.

The feedback from the first informed changes to the CAN strategy for the second stage of the project, which began in February 2019 and runs until to June 2020.

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