New Helping Hand for Those With Disabilities

July 5, 2010

Artist Clare Hooper has an intellectual disability and is schizophrenic.

WHEN Clare Hooper left high school, she attended a special community centre to learn life skills and go on group excursions. As a person with intellectual disabilities and schizophrenia, she was given little choice. The government-funded centre offered her two days of activities with 30 others. And as her mother, Helen, remembers, Ms Hooper was ”bored and unfulfilled”.

Now the 23-year-old lives in her own flat and pursues her passions – painting and drawing – helped by an inspiring teacher, Robyn Chadwick. She has twice won North Sydney Council’s annual art prize for people with disabilities.

Ms Hooper is happier and more confident, her mother says, thanks to a new way of funding the needs of people with disabilities – funding families instead of organisations.

Clare Hooper’s painting, Pink Pussy Cat. Photo: Brendan Esposito

”The government gives us $20,000 a year and we have spent it on weekly art lessons, a personal trainer, WeightWatchers, and a support worker when Clare gets casual jobs, ” says Mrs Hooper.

Her daughter, who once rarely left the parental home, now ”walks around the community with her head high”.

A new study, funded by the federal government, reveals as unfounded the qualms many hold about individual funding. ”People don’t waste it on gambling,” says the lead researcher, Karen Fisher, an associate professor in the Social Policy Research Centre, at the University of NSW. ”Families are highly responsible and use the money most judiciously.”

Dr Fisher said under block funding of organisations, a person might need help at 8am to get ready for work but an agency might offer an assistant at 10.
With individual funding people could buy services on the open market, or through established disability agencies that adapted to client needs.

The study found people liked the flexibility and the sense of control: ”I feel like I have power over who comes into my house, when they come into my house, and what they do while they are there,” one person said.

In most Australian states, and in western Europe, governments are moving quickly to this model. But NSW is lagging. The Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services, Bill Shorten, said: ”Individual funding is not nirvana but we think it’s the way to go and states like Victoria and WA are doing it well.”

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