T he Victorian Government has recently announced the establishment of a registration and accreditation scheme for disability support workers. The promotion of the scheme has focused merely on benefits with Martin Foley, Minister of Ageing, Disability and Housing saying ‘Making sure our disability workers are appropriately registered and qualified is an important step in giving Victorians with a disability the quality services and safety they deserve’. While on the surface, we strongly agree with the sentiment that people with disabilities deserve a quality standard of care, this scheme has the potential to threaten two of the key tenants of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, choice and control. It would require support workers meet a standard set by an independent regulator operating alongside the NDIS National Quality and Safeguarding Framework. The scheme was proposed following the horrifying findings by the May 2016 Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services.

Promoting a high-quality workforce is to be commended. Indeed, Support Workers should be provided with training to meet specific needs and certainly the Government should assist people to become accredited if their employment situation deems it necessary. making accreditation a legal requirement for all workers contradicts the key tenants of the NDIS, that of choice, control and flexibility.

The hostility felt by some people with disability and service providers arises from the threat of this scheme preventing people from being able to choose who supports them. According to the Consultation Paper, roles of the scheme will include ‘setting enforceable qualifications for entry to practise’ and ‘accrediting education and training programs’. This suggests government officials with little experience of support workers will be charged with the responsibility of designing courses for support workers or deciding which programs meet the accredited standards.

Many support workers are university students, and while some may be working towards a career in the health field, many will not be undertaking specifically disability-related degrees. It is not practical to expect people to complete a qualification (which takes time and money) for what is, essentially a casual role to help them gain experience and extra income whilst studying.

Registration and accreditation does not automatically equal quality. Qualified carers may have a more formal mindset and knowledge gained from a textbook rather than an ability to adjust to the person with disability’s living circumstances. There is often a gap in the ‘client’/‘carer’ relationship, rather than an equal relationship.

Introducing mandatory qualifications assumes that all people with disability are unable to communicate their needs. It assumes ‘inability’ rather than ‘ability with a little support’. mandatory qualifications send a message that academics/trainers are more of an expert in how to support the person with disability than the person themselves.

Unfortunately, abuse is blind to the presence of a qualification. Instead, funding should be put towards having advocates assist people with disabilities who wish to employ their own carers, whose sole job it is to be the voice of people who can’t communicate for themselves.

Furthermore, at a time when we need to grow the disability sector, a registration and accreditation scheme would severely limit the pool from which to choose support workers. It could potentially damage a sector which already struggles to attract workers. It is essential people with disabilities can employ people whom we trust and feel comfortable. Ability to choose who assists you is key to quality of life and sense of self-determination.

From a financial perspective, having a qualification usually increases the wage of the worker and unfortunately many funding packages won’t stretch far enough to meet that income. Who is expected to foot this increase in cost?

Additionally, at its core, disability support is diverse. It involves helping peers live their best life, so qualifications for certain tasks may be too difficult to police increasing its potential  to be ignored.  The Government must allow us to continue to decide for ourselves who supports us by not imposing mandatory qualifications for disability support workers.

To have your say regarding what a framework for mandatory support worker registration should look like sign the petition.

Action for Choice and Control