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Empowerment through Self Management

We spoke with Kristy Macnamara about her role as General Manager of Plan Navigators. She shares her experience of working alongside people with disabilities who are choosing to take back control of their lives by Self Managing their plans. Kristy shares her passion for the work and talks about how it is raising the standards for people with disabilities. She is taking a lead role in the development of this service that is at the forefront of supporting both Self Managers and their staff to creatively and successfully navigate the changing landscape of the disability sector.

She can be a difficult woman to pin down, but we managed to catch her long enough to find out what she’s been up to since the launch of Plan Navigators (formerly Personal Assistants WA).

You’ve long been passionate about raising the standards for People with Disabilities and have been a key player in developing Inclusion WA’s Individualised Service over the past 10 years. Why this new venture and what is it all about?

I love this work because it’s light touch but it’s so powerful. We have the opportunity to be able to influence and educate people to expect more from their service providers and support staff. Because we are independent from the service delivery model we have a broader scope to be able to support people holistically. To sit down and have conversations with people about how they can use their plan creatively to help them achieve their goals. We can talk about all the different services they can engage and the different options available. People often aren’t used to having this level of choice and control over their funding, especially people transitioning from Agency-Managed plans. They don’t know about all the different options available to them when they become a Self Manager. Our role is to support them to understand and explore their options – to think creatively and to make their funding work for them. We meet people where they are at and support them with what they need to be able to Self Manage effectively. Some people just need support with specific things – like recruiting staff, or paying their invoices. Other people need a higher level of support. We work flexibly and support people to take control at a pace that works for them – even if it’s just baby steps. Taking on a small role and building up from there. It’s about people having greater choice and control over their lives by taking responsibility – making mistakes, learning from them and growing. It’s about changing the culture – chipping away and changing the mindsets and the people we support and their Service Providers to expect better.

Can you explain what it actually means to Self Manage funding?

Self Managing refers to a Person with a Disability, who receives funding under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), being the managers of their own plan. This is instead of the plan being managed by an agency. We work with people who Self Manage their whole plan, and other people with Combination Plans – so some Agency-Managed funding and some Self Managed. Some people have only ever had Agency-Managed plans and are transitioning to Self Management. Some people are brand new into the world of funding.

Many people have low expectations and negative experiences with Service Providers. How do you work differently to try to change this culture of low expectations?

It’s about building relationships with people and earning their trust over time. Our philosophy is always following through on what you say you’re going to do and not over-promising. Listening to what it is people need and providing that. In terms of raising expectations the most powerful work I’ve been finding is supporting someone to check their invoices and understand what it is they’re being charged for by their Service Providers. They start asking questions, stepping up and having conversations about it and holding their providers accountable. Knowledge is power. It allows people to make informed decisions about how their funding is used. It’s also great that Self Managers have the option to use non-registered Service Providers. People don’t need to rely on one provider for all of their services – they can shop around. If they’re not happy with a service they have the option to go elsewhere. It makes for a more competitive market and leads to better outcomes. People have greater choice and can choose not to spend their funding on a service that isn’t meeting their needs. People are asking questions and pushing back. It also encourages more inclusive societies as more People with Disabilities are accessing mainstream (as opposed to segregated) services.

What are the best parts of being involved in this work?

The most exciting thing is seeing the most vulnerable people in our community taking on managing their own plan. Seeing people who have never had control over their lives making decisions for themselves and being empowered to use their funding in creative ways that work for them. A lot of people are turning to Self-Management because they’ve had such poor experiences with Service Providers. It’s so powerful for a person when they learn to become an employer of people and direct and manage their own staff. They learn to direct their own life.

It’s exciting to hear about these changes taking place and actually starting to make a difference. Can you share with us some visions you have moving forward from here?

A big vision is around how we can create more of a user-led service. Seeing people with lived experience sharing the knowledge and expertise they’ve gained through Self Managing and supporting others to do the same. Also working more with people who live regionally. Self Management is a great option because funding can be used to engage local people and to link in with local services. There is a lot of exciting work coming up. It’s about finding ways to support a broader range of people to manage their own plans – people with significant disabilities, intellectual disabilities, people who live remotely and those who are more vulnerable and perhaps don’t have strong support networks. It’s assessing what support is required, thinking creatively to come up with solutions and ensuring the right supports are put in place for that person so they can effectively Self Manage. It’s so exciting to see people who aren’t used to having much control over their lives starting to make decisions for themselves about how their funding is used. It’s challenging at times but it’s so worth it!