Respite care; a sound investment in families

Respite care for the families of young people with disabilities is one of the best investments the National Disability Insurance Scheme can possibly make.

It means families can provide accommodation and support in a home environment, relieving the state of much of the cost that would be incurred if their child was permanently in an institution.

The work done by family caregivers, while usually unheralded and almost always unremarked, saves tax payers tens of millions of dollars annually and is arguably the best example of a true "labour of love" imaginable.

All the carers ask is that from time to time they have overnight respite from the high level of responsibility that comes with such a commitment. This gives them precious time out most families take for granted and often means other children can also get much needed special attention.

While respite care, which involves placing the person with a disability with services is not cheap, it is far less expensive than having clients permanently in full time care.

Family members have described how without a regular break to look forward to it would be impossible for them to look after their children at home on a permanent basis.

The problem is that under the NDIS, some facilities have only limited funding available for respite care placements.

Not  only is there a growing demand due in part to the intensity of the work required in the home but even when facilities try to offer respite this limited per night funding can become an ongoing drain. Allocated funding can fall well short of the actual costs of care for clients, especially those with special needs, and failed to take into account shift allowances and the like. Respite care, not surprisingly, is frequently sought on weekends.

The underlying problem is not about to go away and could well become worse as the NDIS is rolled out across more areas. While there is much to commend about the NDIS, its roll out has been less than successful in many respects and has led to numerous unintended consequences.

Or, as a Productivity Commission position paper released in June found: "the speed of the NDIS roll out... has put the scheme's success and financial sustainability at risk".

Long-term solutions, based on experience, client needs, and administrative flexibility are what is needed.