Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19 information for families and young people (NDIS participants under 7 years)

    Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19 information for families and young people (NDIS participants under 7 years)

    Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19

    Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19 information for families and young people (NDIS participants under 7 years)
    Video Read transcript


    MARY: Good morning, everyone. And welcome to this webinar today. My name is Mary Sayers and I'm CEO of Children and Young People with Disability Australia.

    Before we begin I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we're meeting today and pay my acknowledgment to elders past and present and acknowledge the lands on which we're all meeting across the country.

    Thank you for participating today. We acknowledge the COVID-19 situation has been incredibly difficult for Australians and we also know very difficult for children and young people with disability and their families.

    We know you've been hit hard. Not only have you had concerns about the actual infection which have meant families have been self- isolating because their children may be at greater risk but we also know daily life has become a lot harder for you and so hence we're delighted to be partnering with the National Disability Insurance Agency to deliver this webinar.

    So this webinar is particularly for families who have children who are aged under 7 and before we begin, we'd particularly like to acknowledge the work the NDIA have done to adapt and to be flexible in these unprecedented times. We look forward to hearing from both Martin, the CEO, and Luke who is the general manager of Partner and Contact Centre.

    But before we begin, I'd like to start with some housekeeping. First, check your audio settings at the bottom of the screen and make sure your speakers are working. You will note that we have Auslan interpreters, which you will be able to see on the screen along with the speaker. This session will have closed captions and they will be visible at the bottom of your screen but if for some reason you cannot see them, click the CC button at the bottom of your screen to access the captions.

    This session will also be recorded and available on our website, in case you want to go back and check and listen again.

    So, in terms of what we're covering today, thank you for sharing your questions with us when you registered. We've compiled a list of the top 10 questions that we've heard. We may not get to all 10 during the webinar, hopefully we will, and you also may have new questions. So there is a Q&A function at the bottom of the screen that you can submit your questions.

    We'll be able to respond to some of the questions through the Q&A window but for the remaining questions, we'll endeavour to collate the answers and publish on the CYDA website.

    In relation to individual or specific circumstance-based questions, we ask that if you're happy for us to take your details through the Q&A, we'll then follow them up afterwards but we won't be able to cover those today.

    So finally, please be patient with your questions as we will try to get through as many as we can.

    If, for any chance, we drop out today stay on the line and we will be reconnected. Be patient with us. We hope that won't happen but just in case stay on the line.

    So it's now my great pleasure to introduce Martin Hoffman, who is the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency. Martin began in November and has had a long and distinguished career. He's been working on the Services Australia task force with Minister Stuart Robert more recently, and he's also been secretary of the NSW Department of Finance and Services and Innovation for four years. He's been a deputy secretary in the Commonwealth Department of Industry and Science but he's also, before entering the public service, had a long early career in consulting in banking, both in Australia and overseas, and it's been an absolute delight to work with Martin since he started. So now I'd like to hand over to Martin to give us an introduction.

    MARTIN: OK, well, Mary, thank you very much for that introduction and good morning to everybody. Of course, we're all in this strange new world now so I'm sitting at my desk and speaking to a screen and hoping that there are people there magically on the other side of the screen for those of a certain age, it's sort of a bit like Playschool through the looking glass. I can see Mary but I can't see any other names that are out there.

    But look, it is a great pleasure and honour to speak with people, speak with you all today because you really are the parents who are caring for children with disability and I just want to start by acknowledging my complete respect and admiration for everything that you do day in, day out.

    Obviously I'm a parent myself. One of my children had very severe health issues rather than disability, and so severe that she actually passed away aged 17. So I know a little bit, in a different context. I never put health and disability together in that way but a little bit about the impact that a child in that sort of situation has on the parents, on the relationship between parents, on the relationships with other siblings, relationships between siblings, and so I have some insight and personal experience to that in a different way, as I said. But I just want to do start by sharing my complete admiration and respect for what parents and parents of children with disability do.

    I also want to start by acknowledging great respect for CYDA as an organisation and I've really enjoyed working with Mary and the small team there. Small team but they make a big impact and have been doing, I know, great work over this current COVID-19 period.

    Clearly we know that COVID-19 is a challenging time for everybody and we're all spending more time at home and that's hard for everybody. Usual routines have been disrupted and we're changing the way we interact with each other and with our community. But the collective aim that we've all got has continued and that is to support continued access to quality specialist services. Of course, if we can maintain these supports now, then when physical distancing is relaxed, and it seems like we might be getting closer to some relaxation, families can move forward and focus on their child's development through the continuation of those quality early childhood intervention services.

    Of course, right through this time, it's a priority of the health and safety of participants, staff and providers remains the highest priority. So we understand the adjustments we've all had to make, they've often been difficult and we're all doing our part in a critically important time, to minimise the spread of the virus and protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

    I appreciate, of course, for some of you, fear or anxiety about the virus and potentially its impact on children with compromised health, you know, is an added concern as well.

    So our focus at this time, in the agency, has been on really trying to provide families with the flexibility that they need within the legal construct of the scheme. So we've been automatically extending plans, if a plan review hasn't been able to be completed before it's due to expire, to ensure you continue to receive the supports that you need.

    12 months continues to be the usual plan duration recommended for children under the age of 7 due to their rapidly changing development needs. We've also implemented a range of other initiatives including the ability for families to use their plans and budgets flexibly, ability to quickly access additional disability-related supports through a change of circumstances, light touch plan review. My colleagues might speak more about that later. And establishing special teams of planners available to help make urgent changes to plans and a dedicated call line through the call centre to that team. We've obviously shifted face-to-face planning to telephone meetings in response to those physical distancing requirements.

    There's been a big change in the way our society is working overall with a much greater use of technology for therapy and to maintain social connections, just like we're trying to do today.

    Early childhood professionals and services have been willing and adaptive adopters of that technology to deliver special supports for children and we've seen telepractice and telehealth encouraging the use of capacity building practices like coaching, which are best practice approaches, working with the provider, parents and carers can problem solve together, find solutions which are practical and effective in a child's everyday routine.

    Telepractice or telehealth can include videoconferencing, emails, text, telephone calls, group chats, sending videos or photos. And it's really been quite remarkable how quickly obviously business has adopt to do working in a new way but remarkable how the best providers, therapists, have really adopted these new approaches much more quickly than we could have imagined without the impetus of the pandemic.

    We've tried to support this increased use of telepractice by amending flexible use of plan funding, including the ability to purchase low-cost assistive technology, under $1,500, to help participant s maintain supports and therapies. This support acknowledge that is many face-to-face services have been suspended due to distancing regulations and capacity building supports cannot be delivered face to face and those that can't be delivered face to face are being delivered online.

    So this is a time-limited change which will be in place until September 2020 and will be reviewed in July 2020 and in September again. It's always hard for us to be frank about it to get the balance right between funded supports and supports which are seen as ordinary living costs that people with or without disability may use. And I know that can be a contentious and difficult area and I just wanted to sort of acknowledge it up-front and not hide away from it. It can be an area of agreement or disagreement but we hope with the way this policy works now, that we've got the balance right in that respect, at least for this difficult period and we'll, as I said, look at it again in July and September.

    If we think about school-aged children, and, of course, this is the webinar for the 0-6, but at the top end of that age group, children may well be starting school or in their first or second year of school. We know that the use of online platforms and technology to access supports has been, for some has been suitable or even a welcome transition but we also know that the Coronavirus has meant everyone has had to make significant adjustments and there can be a feeling of disconnection or feeling overwhelm ed. It's important to us that participants remain supported and connected during this time.

    We know that for some children their families, remote learning from home has been really difficult. The delivery of education is the role of State and Territory governments but the NDIA does have a role to play in working with participants and their families to ensure they have the disability-related supports in place at this time. So children and young people with disability may require additional supports to continue learning outside their normal school routine.

    We want to reassure everyone that we, together with all governments, recognise the importance of education and are committed to supporting the continuity of participants' learning through the response to COVID-19.

    So while the Australian health protection principal committee, the AHPPC, that's the one that Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, chairs, while that committee has not recommended the closure of schools at this time, we understand that decisions regarding closure of schools may have been made by the relevant education authorities, that is State and Territory governments, for government schools and then individual independent schools or school networks such as the Catholic Schools Association. And then, of course, parents and guardians of NDIS participants may choose to keep their children at home even when schools are open to participate in distance and online learning.

    So for many parents, we know this means juggling supporting children for remote learning while managing work and other responsibilities. Education systems continue to be responsible for inclusive education supports such as resources and training for teachers, aide s and equipment to make education accessible. They also continue to be responsible for day-to-day supervision and support of student who is are at school, including behavioural support. So we encourage parents to talk to their school and teachers about the resources they might need to participate in learning at home as well as additional needs.

    We encourage participants and their families or carers to purchase or rent disability supports that best meet their needs using the existing budget. Your NDIS funding can be paid for a number of services delivered in your home including self-care, equipment and assistive technology and therapies as well as social participation and capacity building supports delivered online.

    As an example, while it's not the role of a support worker to provide education to a participant, if your child has funding for a support worker to provide in-home support, you can use those hours flexibly to better support your child's personal needs so they can continue to participate in educational activities set by the school. This may include shifting support hours to a more suitable time, a support worker assisting other daily tasks including to assisting with resources online if the participant is unable to do so on their own due to disability. We encourage you to talk to your support worker or provider about using your hours flexibly during this time.

    We understand that social disconnection, uncertainty and change in routine can see an increased need for behavioural or mental health supports and therapies, so we encourage people to talk to their therapists or providers about additional supports that may help. Participants who have support coordination in their plan, we also have made it possible for participants to use their funding flexibly to purchase increased support coordination to find and access services during this time. For those without support coordination, or those of you who have not previously needed the assistance of a support worker, we encourage you to talk to your LAC or ECEI partner to discuss your needs or call us to assist.

    If your child's disability support needs change and you need additional hours of support or there's not enough NDIS funding in your plan to pay for changed supports we can make changes with a light touch plan review. We have a specific hot line for COVID-19 related inquiry through the national contact centre, 1800110800 and then pressing 5. You can contact your local area coordinator or early childhood partner if you need to change your child's NDIS plan. And we have a team of special planners in place at the end of that phone line, dial 5, to help make these changes.

    We're regularly updating our website with information for participants and we encourage you to use this as an important resource for information relating to your NDIS support stream at this time. We're really updating that very regularly, at least each week.

    So in a nutshell, we know it's tough and respect and admiration for all you are doing and going through. We're here to help and we're doing our best to try and do that and to provide as much flexibility as possible at this time.

    So, look, I'll wrap up there. I will stay on the webinar. I'm really keen to hear some of the other discussion and I thank Mary again for the opportunity to speak to you today. Mary and I have had a number of good discussions about COVID-19 environment and which led to the creation of this forum, the first of three, and also more broadly about the way the scheme works and should work better for children and young people with disability.


    With that, I'm going to hand over, I think, Mary, to Luke Napolitano. Luke is our general manager at the NDIA, runs the partner group which really manages the relationships with the LACs and the early childhood partners and also runs the national contact centre as well. So he's really right at the front line of engagement with our participants and does a great job. So he'll be here. I don't know if he's making a sort of a statement or just going straight to questions. But with that, over to you, Luke, and back to Mary, I guess. Thanks.

    MARY: Thank you very much, Martin, for your words. Very appreciative. Introducing Luke, so the way this is going to work, the next section, the top ten questions we're going to go through and ask Luke to answer them. So I'm going to kick off, Luke, and welcome. The first one is really about access. We did have a number of people who registered who are not yet NDIS participants. And the first question was how can I get NDIS funding with the current pandemic restricting assessments?

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. It's a pleasure to be here and joining CYDA and all the participants here today. I won't cover off on the items that Martin's covered there but in order to discuss a little bit around access. So in the current environment that we're in, our first point of call to all people, whether they're families, carers, or people who, you know, are looking after children in some shape or form, is to really reach out to our early childhood partners.

    So our first point of call is to always direct families, carers, people to our early childhood partners who are, on behalf of the NDIA, delivering the early childhood, early intervention approach. The reason why we guide families, children and carers to our partners is that they will be able to guide them in the right direction in regards to do they require access to NDIS, so getting an understanding of what is a child's disability or developmental delays, understanding what are appropriate next steps. Do they need connection to community supports or mainstream supports or other health supports that might be more appropriate? So it's always good to direct children, families and carers in that direction so they do get the right advice and they talk to the experts to deliver our early childhood early intervention and understand the process to go through.

    To understand who we are in this current COVID environment, there are a number of ways that families can interact with our partners. So at the moment, the majority of our partners are delivering services either over the phone, online, via email, text, whatever sort of form suits the family best and the reason why we're doing that is the number one priority is to protect the health and safety of children, families and carers. So at this point in time, when we think about physical distancing, we want to make sure that the forms of communication that we're using are appropriate to be able to, whether it's provide information or support, or, to your point earlier around assessments, be able to really get an understanding of the child's developmental needs or disability.

    So our partners are well Versed in being able to deliver those services. If, in discussions for partner, it is deemed that the child may need access to the scheme, then what would normally happen there is the partner would support the family or carer to be able to complete what we call an access request form, which we've just released online now to make it easier in the current environment, and also would engage with our contact centre to a verbal access request using online form. So work together, they would submit the form and if the child was granted access and required funding through the NDIS for a plan, then what the partner would do would be making contact with that family or carer around starting to discuss the preplanning steps and the plan the child might require.

    MARY: Terrific, thank you very much for answering that, Luke. Of course, after this webinar we will be able to send all the people who registered the details to all the links.

    The second question was really around the recent announcement around assistive technology and perhaps if you could explain to the participants on the webinar what do the changes to the flexible arrangements to low-cost assistive technology mean?

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. So, at this point in time, I guess the one thing that's really top of mind for us is how do we ensure that people remain connected and not only connected to supports they're receiving through plans, whether funded supports or therapies, but also remain connected from a social community aspect as well and we've been listening to a lot of feedback from children, families, carers, the sector as well around some of the changes that both providers and participants of the scheme have had to go through and how they might want to choose to receive supports moving forward. We do know early on in the first few weeks of the pandemic, there was a little bit of a retraction, as I'd call it, from participants in the scheme. So a real nervousness around provision of supports and how they would be provided and even from an online perspective, I think it took a couple of weeks probably for that to become a relevant piece of delivery in terms of therapeutical supports and online supports.

    We've seen that pick up and we've made changes to our policy. We decided to make some changes that enabled participants to be able to use their plans flexibly to purchase any low-cost AT that they require that is a disability-related support. Whether therapies or online supports. There's some restrictions to the way that policy has been constructed. If a child or a family has the access to that technology already, so whether they have a smart device, online device or different type of device, it allows for that disability-related support to be provided, then we'd encourage them to use that device rather than use your plan funding to purchase a device.

    In most situations, what we'd recommend is for the family to talk to their provider, or the carer to talk to the provider, around what type of services are most relevant for delivering this type of environment. Do they need a specific advice and what are recommendations in terms what that looks like? And can they use devices they already have?

    We've heard stories about families being able to use existing technology such as phones to be able to stream to TVs and receive online support that is way, receive information via email through computers they may already have or email capacity on phones to be able to get information to be able to be coached on some of the capacity-building techniques they might be able to use in the home with their child. So we're starting to see a lot of changes in the way that people receive and deliver supports. Some of those already existed and I guess in this environment we're seeing that more prevalent. But it's probably more relevant just to make sure people understand how to use their plans to purchase technology if they do, and if you self-manage or plan manage you go - you would be able to go to any provider to be able to access that technology but you should be going to your provider first, make sure you get that letter and you go through what other options may be available and ensure you understand what specifications you need for that support to be provided.

    That also comes down to equipment that you may need as well. So it may be - depending on the situation, there might be a need to rent, buy, or look at other types of forms of acquiring equipment for a short period of time to be able to have that support in the home while you're receiving those services.

    MARY: Thanks very much, Luke. And I can see the questions are starting to roll in, which is fantastic. We will be holding off our online Q&A and if we have time at the end of the session. So keep your questions coming in and we'll endeavour to answer them either now or after the session.

    The next question, Luke, has been a really common one and you touched on it before in terms of the move to flexible and remote therapy that's been away from face-to-face therapy. So we've heard from some families that they're finding online therapies not working for their child and they may need more sessions than they would if there had been face to face. So it's not fully translating. And the question really was is the NDIS aware that the support budget may need to increase as therapy being delivered online is not the same as face-to-face therapy and perhaps more sessions are required?

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. In terms of that question, we're probably seeing two streams at the moment. So one is where people are seeing a bit of a welcome change from, I guess, clinical-type therapy. So receiving therapy in the home via online supports and having carers and families, I guess, deeply engaged in understanding the therapy, understanding how they build their capacity to assist children post that therapy session. We're seeing that provide, I guess, some good outcomes in terms of a change, more in the line of best practice in the early intervention approach. But we are hearing, as well as what you're hearing, around the challenges of receiving online therapy as well and what that might do in terms of progressing the development of the child against that therapy.

    There are a number of ways that, I guess, we can look at this as well. You know, we would encourage the family or carer to speak to the provider around if that therapy or if that online support is not meeting the needs, do you go to short, I guess short sessions rather than long sessions to try to make them short, sharp and delivering. The other aspects, I guess you can look to as well is talking to your early childhood partner and looking at your plan and is that plan meeting the needs of the current way the therapies and online is being delivered.

    MARY: Terrific. So your advice, Luke -

    LUKE: I dropped out there. Is the connection -

    MARY: Just wanted to double check. Can people hear me?

    SPEAKER: Yes, we can.

    MARY: I might push on, Luke, if that's OK. To summarise, the first point of call is to go back to the early childhood early intervention partner to double check what's needed and any changes. Is that correct?

    LUKE: If they're finding that through discussing of their provider, they're not seeing any changes that are delivering the supports in a different way that are meeting the outcomes, then, yes, they can talk to the partner around the suitability of the plan. It doesn't need to be adjusted. Because there will be some cases where maybe additional support is required and the partner will be we will Versed to talk to family around what have they tried with the provider, what discussions did they have? Do they need to have a change in their plan? If that does come to the forefront in terms of what their needs are, we would encourage talking to the early childhood coordinators and partners around that.

    MARY: Fantastic. And this next question is probably one of the most common ones that we're getting, which is can families transfer funding from one line, ie core supports to capacity building, or to and from consumables? So that's been a really common question around how they can switch funding between different lines and then how do they go about doing that?

    LUKE: So in regards to plans and flexibility, we are working on a longer term solution which allows you to use your plan more flexibly across core and capacity supports and all supports in a plan. At the moment we have changed the plans to allow flexibility between different lines between core and capacity. You can't grab the capacity supports and change them over to your core supports but what you can do is use your core supports and capacity supports more flexible within that cohort.

    So if in your core plan you need to change consumables to use more daily living supports or in-home living supports, you can use your core flexibly to be able to do that. Same with capacity building. You can use it across the different lines to do that. The only line I think in the core plan that you are unable to use flexibly is the transport line. That is a fixed line in the core plan. But when you're dealing with your aspects within core or capacity building, you can use those flexibly in between.

    If you're finding that you have used up a certain portion of your plan and you require more core supports but don't have the funding available, that's when we would recommend that families do reach out to their early childhood partner and have a chat to them before they use all their supports and make sure that they talk about the plan required. What we can do in this current environment, noting that we are seeing different needs coming across different families and carers, is we have set up specialist teams, to Martin's point, that are able to make changes to plans in this environment where we see there is a need to move funding between core and capacity to be able to meet the needs or supports that are required.

    MARY: Thanks, Luke. I think, again, I'm hearing the message from you get in contact with your early childhood early intervention partner, get in contact with the agency and discuss your individual circumstances is a real key message that's been coming both through Martin's introduction as well as yourself. So thank you very much and as head of the contact centre, you're at the front line of hearing all the issues that come up.

    Martin did mention the issue around education and it won't affect all of our audience but certainly for children who are in preschool or for children who are in school, or beginning school, this is a really difficult time as these settings are moving to remote learning or not open.

    Could you - is there anything else you want to do elaborate on following from what Martin said around how families can use their in-home supports if they didn't have in-home supports beforehand, because they didn't need them at that time, what do they do and how can families access core supports for school-aged children and young people? So if there's anything else you wanted to add onto Martin's earlier feedback and those questions are coming through the question line as well.

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. Probably important to note, and you did touch on it, I mean we're quite aware that the change of schooling, especially for young children who may have just started their first year, whether it's preschool or prep or grade one, depending on what age they are, we do note that there is definitely an impact and a change to starting school and then going to online learning at home and then setting up all of those, I guess, requirements they've had to put in place as part of trying to deal with starting school and getting ready for school and then having to pare it back into an online environment.

    The one thing that we probably encourage all parents and carers to do as a first point would be to talk to your school, so to talk to your educational provider. The schools - the education system does have a responsibility to ensure that the way that services are delivered are being able to meet the needs of learning for children.

    Having said that, as an agency, we're quite aware that when you do change from supports that are being delivered from the education system in school to an environment at home where you may need additional support, you may require something different that may not currently be in your plan. In that situation where you have discussed with the school, you've looked at the resources and the assistance that can be provided, and you do have additional needs given that, you know, you're looking at working from home, having online learning from home at the same time and you do need additional support, we would really encourage you to reach out, if you don't have it in your plan, in your existing plan to use that core function in your plan, we would strongly encourage people to reach out to their early childhood partners and discuss the ability to be able to use their plan more flexibly or if they do require different items in their plan, how do they go about acquiring those items to be able to be used.

    Now the one thing we also need to be mindful of is, yes, support workers can be used to be able to assist children in day-to-day activities, but they can't replace the learning environment that a school or the resources that a school provides. So their role isn't to try to provide learning, their role is to assist with aides, assist with that daily support that a child or family or carer may need. So it's making sure we understand those differences and how we work together, whether it's education or disability sector to be able to provide that. You're on mute, Mary.

    MARY: Thank you very much for that, it is, and I'm sure it will be a big topic of conversation at our next webinar which is on Thursday, which is for school-aged children. So if anyone wants to listen into that one on Thursday they're more than welcome to.

    So the next question is really around social supports and you mentioned that, Luke, before around the isolation that people are feeling. So how do you think we can help NDIS participants maintain social support networks at this time and, you know, how do we access funding on social and emotional support to young children at this time?

    LUKE: One of the, I guess, most important things during this time, and I know you'd support this, Mary, is how we ensure that people remain connected and feel connected and how we try and remove as much as possible that self-isolation that the people can feel coming into an environment such as COVID.

    One of the things we strongly encourage is, I guess, in the early days of the pandemic, I guess we did see a lot of shutdown of face-to-face type interaction and groups that may have been face to face. What we're now seeing, and we're continuing to see a lot more of, is the emergence of a lot of online group activities and supports. So although we'd encourage families to ensure that they are remaining connected, whether it's via online, phone, video with family and friends to ensure that they try and remove self-isolation as much as possible, even though we are all mostly living in our homes, it's important that they feel connected by continuing that.

    In terms of social and community, there are a lot of emerging supports online at the moment around online playgroups. We're seeing virtual libraries. We're seeing a number of community-based and also mainstream activity that is are being released by different areas of the sector. So what I would encourage families to do would be to talk to your provider. Providers will across a lot of those online program that is are available, talk to your partner around online community or other community-type activities that we can get children and families involved in, and ensuring that you still remain that connection to family and friends, how do you set up the right programs, activities to ensure that children are feeling connected at this time.

    I've got two young children, a 4 and 7-year-old, and the first couple of weeks missing that connection of school, playground, friend, families is quite large. And I guess we could feel it in our house as well in terms of the stress it puts on families and friends while you're trying to work. It's really important to talk to your therapist, talk to your providers, talk to your early childhood partner around what are some routines to put in place to make sure that connection is still felt.

    MARY: Thanks, Luke. Yes, it has been an incredibly difficult time and I guess that question also relates back to the use of assistive technology and when families don't have access to the technology, things like iPads or other sort of equipment that can help them be connected, that is really what that is designed for so that children and their families can remain connected to their providers and participate in some of those other peer-to-peer activities that you spoke about earlier. Assuming that's correct?

    LUKE: Definitely, definitely. It's just making sure that we assist families and carer s being able to use their plans as flexibly as possible and the changes to low-cost AT policy were to ensure we could do that in the right way but make sure we weren't duplicating other services or being provided by education or other government agencies. So making sure we are supporting families in the right way.

    MARY: Terrific. The next couple of questions go to the issue of reviews and then funding but I will start with reviews. How will reviews change because of the COVID-19 situation?

    LUKE: The main change for reviews moving forward from this point in time has been a move away from face-to-face reviews, just understanding the number one priority around health and safety of participants and also, you know, early childhood partners and planners and the agency, we've moved to more online delivery of plans, whether it be via videoconference or by telephone. Even email, to a certain degree, where we need to get information back and forth from a parent or a carer.

    That's probably been the number one move. In terms of plan reviews, the aim for the agency is to continue plan reviews as much as possible. What I mean by that is we are still contacting families, carers, wanting to go through the normal review processes that we would normally do preCOVID, and that's because we want to make sure that the plan is actually fit for purpose for the child and the family. The opportunity to review the goals, review the supports, to ensure any changes to, especially this environment, the way community or mainstream services may be provided, are discussed with the family and that plan is really fit for purpose.

    So families who do have an NDIS plan should still expect a call from their early childhood partner or the agency to book in a plan review meeting and go through a plan and making sure that plan meets the needs of that family and is delivering the outcomes that are related to goals.

    If the family does not receive a call, so for some reason if a plan isn't put in place before it's due to expire, we did put a change in our system which allows for that plan to automatically extend for another 12 months. So that means the core supports, the capacity building supports, they will continue for another 12 months at the same rate as they were previously.

    What we will still be doing is ensuring that our partners and agency do contact that family to make sure that plan's fit for purpose and if they need to go through a plan review process. We also did put some streamline measures in place as well. So where we have family or carers where the goals are still relevant, the supports are still relevant and a quick light touch review is relevant, so ex tending those supports for another 12 months, we have a process in place where we can quickly do a plan review, making sure those goals and supports are still relevant.

    There's a number of processes we can use. Ideally we'd love to do a full plan review where it's applicable where child's or carer's needs are changing but if we can do a light touch review we'll do that as well if the supports and goals remain relevant.

    MARY: Thanks very much for answering that one, Luke. And just a reminder to our participants online, don't forget to keep bringing your questions through. We've nearly come to the end of our formal questions and then we will be able to open it up to general Q&A.

    So the next question relates to funding and what happens when funds that can't be used because of the COVID-19 situation? So obviously people aren't able to access as many of their usual supports that they may be accessing, particularly in the community. People who are on the line wanted to know will they be disadvantaged if they can't utilise a large proportion of their funds because of COVID-19?

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. I guess quick answer would be no. So no-one is disadvantaged by how much they use their plan or don't use their plan. So what we generally find with people on their first plan is you generally find utilisation to be a little bit lower than in your second or third plan. And in certain environments, depending on what changes might happen to delivery of supports or providing certain therapies, you do find that sometimes you do have a plan that's not fully utilised and most of our plans probably sit at around 60% to 70% utilisation. So we find that they're not at that probably 90% to 100%.

    If you aren't fully utilising your plan you aren't disadvantaged. What will happen is when you come up for your plan review, your early childhood partner will talk to you about where has your child developed to or what are your child's needs and we'll look at any functional assessments or look at what required needs are moving forward and we'll put a plan in place that suits the outcomes to the goal that is have been put into that plan.

    So whether you spent 100% of your plan or 50% of your plan that's not taken into account when a plan review is completed. It's completed on the basis of what are the needs, where is your child at that time and what supports need to be put in place. I want to alleviate any concerns of parents or carers may have that's not what's taken into account when the agency does review plans.

    MARY: Terrific, thank you very much, Luke. And the final one of our formal questions that we prepared beforehand and then we'll move onto some of the Q&A that's moving through from the audience. Participants have noted that there has been a 10% price increase that service providers can charge during this COVID time. We have families who are worried that their plan is being used up more quickly because of this 10% price increase. And obviously plans have not gone up with that 10%. So could you perhaps outline what participants should do if their plans are being used more quickly because of the 10% price increase by service providers?

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. If you see your plan, I guess, head towards near capacity, so going towards probably 80% utilisation or higher, and it's not coming up for a plan review, then I would probably encourage families to get in contact with their early childhood partner and discuss their plan, the services they've been provided and the funding available in the plan.

    What we do see, Mary, is we don't see a high utilisation, especially in those first plans, as I alluded to previously. We're not seeing in the data across all plans, we're not seeing a high usage which is leading to a lot of plans being fully utilised and those supports being available for parents or carers for their children. But if you are experiencing that, so there will be occasions where that is heading towards full capacity, I would be contacting the early childhood partners and discussing your new plan or your next plan or why you have been able to utilise your plan and what are the supports required for your child and they will be able to assess where that child is on their developmental journey and what is required moving forward. But, yeah, our first point would be we don't see a lot of it in terms of full utilisation but if you are one of those people experiencing it do get in contact with us quite quickly.

    MARY: Terrific. Thank you very much, Luke. I'm now going to go to some of the audience questions. It kind of goes back to our very first question which was around access. There was a question about obviously the pandemic has impacted on some of the assessments that can be done either by psychologists or occupational therapists or the range of professionals that might help with assisting with the scheme. Could you perhaps go back to, you know, if that situation has occurred, what do families do?

    LUKE: It's probably good to note that at this point in time, Mary, we're not actually seeing a drop off of the number of children on a weekly basis that are gaining access to the scheme. I guess what's encouraging for us to see is during the current environment, we are seeing that parents and families are able to access the information they need and work with our parents to be able to gain access where it's required.

    Where there may be challenges in gaining information, what we'd strongly encourage is to definitely reach out to your early childhood partner and discuss those. What's, I guess, important to note for especially for children under the age of 7, is that there is no requirement for a disability diagnosis to gain access to the scheme. So what a partner will work with a family or a carer about in terms of their child is understanding what their developmental needs are and if there is development delay and they need to access the scheme, they will work through with them around how they gain access and how they go through that access request.

    Depending on the developmental delay, they might also guide children or families back to community or other mainstream supports that might be more relevant. But in terms of gaining information, there's a number of assessments that our partners can work with families or carers through in order to understand, you know, is that developmental delay or need requiring access to the scheme. So I wouldn't be stressing to parents that they need to go out and gain information, I'd tell them to go to their early childhood partner, work through them and they will be able to work with them in terms of the right assessments to be able to work out whether they need access to the scheme or not.

    MARY: Thank you. The next question that's come up from our audience was around the change to the ten-day notice period for cancellations. So the question was are service providers allowed to request for a ten-day notice from a carer if a child is sick or do they still charge full fees? So I guess this comes to knowing that particularly young children can get sick and pick up lots of bugs, not just COVID but a whole range of other issues, and that need for the ten-day notice period or they will be charged full fees and what flexibility there is around that.

    LUKE: I think it's probably important to note, I know it does impact the plan and plan values and the reason why that was introduced was the need for us to ensure that we're supporting providers through, I guess, the changes that have happened due to COVID and, I guess, a large number of cancellations which we were seeing in, I guess, the first couple of weeks has subsided to a certain degree. And in order to support providers to be able to ensure they are able to remain sustainable we did increase the number of days for a cancellation fee to still be paid.

    If families are concerned around fees that have been charged for cancellation due to, as you've mentioned, Mary, around a child being sick or unable to attend, and their plan is getting close to full utilisation, then I would encourage them to reach out to their early childhood partner to see if they do need a plan review or change the supports in their plan.

    What we are finding is the plans aren't being fully utilised, so their plan is quite low in terms of utilisation I wouldn't look to make any changes right now. Just continue to use that plan as flexibly as they can until such time as they do require it.

    I don't believe there are any exceptions to the ten-day rule. I think it's a flat ten-day rule and if an appointment needs to be cancelled the provider can charge but we'd also encourage parents to talk to the provider around if you need to move the date and not charge a fee, providers can make that call as well.

    MARY: And thank you for that. Are you anticipating that that may change once the COVID-19 situation has subsided and that it goes back to its previous cancellation policy?

    LUKE: Yeah, that's correct, Mary. So a lot of the changes that we've made to our policies are temporary. We've noted in a lot of communication that's gone out that there are six-month policy changes at this point in time and will be reviewed, most of them I think will be June and July, and a lot of them do expire around September and October. So these are short-term changes that have been put in place to not only support parents and families, but also support the provider who is are delivering the service as well. So depending on the change that has been put in place, a bit similar to low-cost AT changes, it's a short-term broadening of our policy to allow parents to be able to acquire that technology if they need it. But as we start to look at, I guess, the recovery phase and what that does look like, and that's a lot of work that we're currently doing and need to do, we need to assess how long these policies need to be in place, are there further changes that are required and what does, I guess, supports look like for the broader sector as we start to get through into recovery.

    MARY: Thanks very much, Luke. There was a clarifying question that was also asked which was covered much earlier in the webinar, was should parents contact their ECEI partner if a light plan touch is needed or should they just call the phone line you mentioned directly?

    LUKE: So if you've got an existing plan, you should be expecting a call from your early childhood partner at least a month before the expiry of the plan to start discussing your new plan. So, do you need a new plan, I guess is the first discussion. Your discussion will be around your child's progression, where they are and does a new plan need to be put in place.

    So if you haven't received that call, then I would definitely be reaching out to your early childhood partner. If you're unable to reach your early childhood partner, then definitely you can reach out to the national contact centre which is the 1800 800 110 number, they will be able to guide you as well. I guess our fallback position is if your plan has expired and you didn't receive contact, it will automatically be extended for 12 months while your partner was working through the plan with you.

    MARY: One of the questions that has come up, which changes tract, which goes back to the COVID virus itself, is around access to personal protective equipment, PPE, and can you give us an update on PPE as far as the NDIS is concerned?

    LUKE: So we take a lot of our direction from the Department of Health when it comes to PPE, personal protective equipment. We refer to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission when it comes to providers and the use of PPE. If parents who are self-managed are feeling they need access to PPE, there is the national supply of PPE that they can look to try to access. Providers are, I guess, using PPE where they see that it is relevant, depending on, I guess, we spoke about earlier, children who may have needs that require providers to, you know, use PPE equipment. So what I would encourage any families that do have concerns is to talk to their providers around the use of PPE equipment and if they need to access it, looking at how they do access the national stockpile.

    MARY: Terrific, and certainly has been a huge concern around the country, I know, for many sectors.

    We've probably got time only for one or two more questions before we close off. One of the questions that's come through from participants is around the return to school and the access to the department-issued transport program and whether they can use some of their core supports to provide travel until, you know, such as a support worker, to provide travel until the virus settles down. Happy if that's one you need to take on notice as well.

    LUKE: It might be, because we probably need to understand the Education Department's role in that if they are provided resources to be able to assist with that. But if there is a need that's above what was normally provided before we went into this environment where a child will need additional support, it's one where I'd encourage families to talk to their early childhood partner around that. But I'd also encourage them first of all to talk to the school around how the school is being able to support children being able to access learning, whether it be via transport and what supports they're providing. You're just on mute, Mary.

    MARY: Sorry. Thank you very much, Luke. That seems to be the end of the questions that we've had from our Q&A. I would like to use this opportunity to thank both yourself, Luke, and if I had to summarise the key message that I've received from yours and Martin's, is just reach out and contact the agency if people are concerned. Contact your early childhood early intervention partner as a first point of call and then if they're not getting the answers that they need.

    And the other thing that we would also encourage people to do is to get in contact with us as well if they've got any concerns because we've been working very closely with the agency. We provided a survey of families and we were providing that information back to the agency weekly. So, again, get in contact with us at CYDA, you've got our contact details, and we'll follow up with our contact details, and if we can't answer the question, we'll work with the agency to help answer that question.

    I know Martin had to step off the line as well so we'd really like to thank Martin Hoffman, the CEO of the agency, for making the time today to speak to all the participants. Thank you very much, Luke, really thank you for your wide-ranging questions. We threw a lot at you and you did a great job in answering them, so thank you.

    I'd also like to thank Christine and Celeste who are our Auslan interpreters, thank you very much for being online. And I'd also like to thank our captioners who have been doing the transcription.

    Just to let you know, this video of today's webinar will be available online on CYDA's website from tomorrow and, again, if you've got school-aged children you are welcome to join us for the next webinar on Thursday.

    So thank you, everyone, and appreciate all your support. Thank you.

    LUKE: Thanks, Mary. Thanks, everyone.