Consistent and personal attention necessary

‘Both evidence and experience show that consistent and personal attention is necessary for good outcomes’. In my book The Ten Demandments this statement relates to the role of disability employment services. But really, it can be applied to any social endeavour, especially if the aim is to make a difference to people’s lives.  

It’s a no-brainer. Isn’t it? Take a moment to consider the following figures.

The Disability Service Act 1986 suggested caseloads for employment support workers. These suggestions varied according to whether people required significant individual support (a caseload of four to six people) or were able to compete within the mainstream job market (12 to 15 people).

Today, a disability employment support worker will commonly have 150 people on his or her caseload! Assuming a 38-hour week in which every second is devoted to direct service delivery, each individual would get 15 minutes of staff time.

Disability hasn’t changed. But the system has changed.

Those people with significant barriers to work participation now have to share funding with their more able-bodied peers. The funding is the same for mild and severe disability. Models of ‘continuous improvement’ insist on year-by-year increases in the number of people supported into work. ‘Placement’ becomes the only goal.

In this competitive environment, performance management systems control the size of the contract and the opportunity exists for unchecked exploitation of that contract (called ‘gaming’) to the point that personal attention actually reduces the success and the viability of the service provider. It is in the interests of a commercial service provider to offer little bits of work to lots of people, not act in the interests of the community, the government and people with a disability by helping them achieve financial independence.

The number of specialist programs has dropped so dramatically that today they are almost non-existent. In many instances, the skilled and experienced staff from these programs have left the field altogether.

And so I return to the quote that introduces this post. We know what works!

To find and maintain employment for people with a significant disability requires specialist skills of the disability employment service and its staff. It requires time to get to know each job seeker. It requires a committed team connected to the local community and it requires a genuine interest in the outcome for each individual job seeker.

- Martin Wren