How did you get to where you are today?
Once upon a very long time ago I was a young university student studying a double major in Psychology and English Literature. At the end of that degree I made a decision to pursue the study of Psychology over literature after working in a clinic with children and young people with learning disabilities. I went on to do further degrees in Psychology and Education. That’s the boring part of my story out of the way.

The best part is my actual lived experience of disability in my work and in my personal life. During my university studies I started working as a “Social Educator” that was the job title back then for a Disability Support Worker. On my very first day on the job I had a very confronting experience that could have ended my career before it even began but instead it was a pivotal moment that I am grateful for. I was supporting a gentleman who had just been moved out of a large institution that had been closed amidst allegations of abuse and neglect. He had been moved to a residential group home with three other people from the facility. He was in the lounge room and was very upset, yelling, screaming and using what he had at hand to throw at people, including his own waste products. The scene was confronting to all the senses and in my young naiveté I ended up a part of the chaos and much the worse for wear. When my shift finished my first response was to hand in my resignation. The more I reflected upon what happened though the more I wanted to understand what had gone so very wrong. This was the beginning of my passion for trauma informed practice. I realised that this gentleman had gone through a lifetime of very stressful experiences, he was scared and did not feel safe. There was no behaviour support plan to follow or communication strategies. I knew that I could have done better if I knew better and was determined to learn as much as I could.

In time, I became the Manager of that particular residence and it was my mission to make sure that all of the residents had access to the best health care, staffing supports and behavioural supports that I could find. It was during this time that I met my current CEO at Allevia, Philip Petrie who at the time was a Behaviour Support Consultant called in by organisations to assist with complex support situations. He confirmed my belief that often “behaviours of concern” were most often the way a person communicated an unmet need. Over the next five or so years our team worked to stabilise the mental and physical health of the residents and by the time I left the role I was satisfied that great progress had been made in improving the residents quality of life and happiness.

I married and then had two children. As is the unpredictable nature of life both of my children have multiple disabilities (Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder to name a few). My experience of disability then became a continuous lived experience beyond “work” and “study”. After a Bachelor and Masters in Psychology I decided that I needed a Bachelor of Primary Education as well and was a teacher in both the state and Catholic systems for many years as it allowed me flexibility. I was retraining to be a school counsellor to combine both my passion for Psychology and Education when I realised that the needs of my own children were where my focus needed to be and I withdrew from the re-training program. Divorce complicated my situation, being a single mother of two kids with additional needs was hard. For a few years I dedicated myself to raising my children. I used a home therapy program offered by ASPECT called Autism Pro to build skills of daily living and encourage communication. This was before the days of the NDIS. When my daughter was offered a place in an ASPECT school I was able to consider returning to the workplace. It was during this time that my paths crossed with Philip again and he offered me a role as a Behaviour Support Practitioner at Allevia eight years ago.

Over the past eight years I have been very happy to see the rise in understanding about trauma and how the past can affect our present moment experiences and what we can do about that. Keeping up with developments in the field of trauma informed practice is my passion as is human rights. Allevia was known as an ADHC provider of last resort for many years, often accepting on very short notice people in crisis that other providers could not support and as a result has a diverse range of people requiring complex supports that has continually expanded my knowledge and experience. My lived experience of disability in my family also informs me as much as my studies on the subject. I believe without any doubt that every person on this planet is equal and the rights and freedoms of people with a disability are no different to anyone else.

What do you see are the benefits of having the FACS Independent Specialists participating on RPA Panels?
I have had the pleasure of walking organisations through their first panel experience as well as participating in some very well organised and efficient large panels by established providers. Whether it be an organisations first experience or fiftieth experience the Independent Specialist brings to the panel their unique knowledge and experience which inevitably is called upon to clarify an issue or illuminate a new perspective that improves the quality of service provision. I carry with me my expertise gained from my qualifications as well as multi-faceted experience from the ground up as a Disability Support Worker, House and Line Manager, Teacher, Behaviour Support Practitioner and mother of two amazing people with disabilities. Each Independent Specialist has their own wealth of knowledge and experience to offer and having access to the whole team is like a living library of priceless collective knowledge and experience.

Before becoming a CJS Independent Specialist I was called to attend many dedicated in-house and also joint Restrictive Practices Authorisation panels with different providers as an Independent as well as in the capacity of a Behaviour Support Practitioner. Sometimes it was very hard for providers to find an appropriately skilled Independent willing to donate their time on their panel. After the implementation of the NDIS and the withdrawal of block funding and focus on billable hours it became even harder to find that available expertise for RPA panels. It was from understanding and experiencing these difficulties myself that I was personally motivated to become a CJS Independent Specialist.

Do you have any advice or tips for those who may be sitting on or convening an RPA Panel in the future?
Firstly, just a small housekeeping request. I have had a few experiences where times of the submission have been changed from the times booked on the portal without notification. If any changes need to be made to scheduled times please let the Independent Specialist know as we can only see what is recorded on the portal.

More information is better than less when it comes to uploaded documents. Evidence is needed to make decisions.

If in doubt just ask. Part of the role of the CJS Independent Specialists is to build the capability of NDIS participants and providers to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities.  The Behaviour Support rules are intended to support participants to be informed purchasers and consumers of NDIS supports and services and to live free from abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation. I personally would like to see more NDIS participants attending the panels where possible. On the occasions this has occurred it has been beneficial for all concerned. For more information on how see the NSW Restrictive Practices Authorisation Policy 4.2 Involving the person in the RPA process.