Navigating the ECEI Labyrinth – What’s Ahead for ECEI Providers

A ladder sticks up out of a three dimensional maze indicating an end to the navigating ECEI

What’s Ahead for ECEI Providers and Why it is Important for Families and Children

Grief, confusion, uncertainty, denial, frustration, worry, guilt, stress… just a few of the many emotions parents and families confront when their young child experiences developmental challenges or has a disability.

Trying to find the right support for a child can be like navigating a labyrinth. One key question of course is ‘What’s going on?”. The next is often ‘What do we do about it?”. The answer is commonly dictated by whether the child meets the diagnostic thresholds required to obtain government-funded support – an expensive exercise involving numerous visits to a variety of specialists.

Over the last 14 years we have seen increasing recognition of the challenges faced by parents and families in this situation, met with responses such as programs like Helping Children with Autism and Better Start for Children with Disability, through to a dedicated Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach in the NDIS. However, there is still a way to go. 2019’s Tune Review put it well:

Further attention should be given to developing a model of planning for children that is more streamlined and provides more structured support for families early in their experience with the NDIS, in a way that prepares them for taking full control later in their NDIS journey. While the long-term aims of the NDIS are clear, more efforts need to be made to support parents and children on the journey from initial inexperience, stress, and disempowerment to being able to exercise informed choice and control.

On the back of numerous reviews and enquiries, including the Tune Review, and an Information Paper subsequently released by the Federal Government last year, the NDIA is now looking to make improvements to the NDIS’ ECEI approach, shaped around 23 recommendations (provided in full below this article). In amongst some big-ticket policy changes such as increasing the age limit for children supported under the approach to up to 9 years old, and having Early Childhood Partners conduct Independent Assessments to determine eligibility and budgets for children over 12 months of age, NDIS providers delivering Early Childhood Supports should take particular note of the following Recommendation:

Recommendation 6: Consider a range of mechanisms that will enhance compliance of providers with the NDIS Practice Standards on Early Childhood Supports and increase awareness by families of providers that adopt that best practice framework.

This recommendation is a response to three key issues1:

  • industry concerns that many ECEI providers in the industry are not following best practice standards
  • 80% of families and carers of young children are either self-managed or plan-managed, meaning they have the choice of using non-registered ECEI providers who do not have to demonstrate compliance with minimum standards like registered providers do, and
  • families have limited knowledge of which ECEI providers are following ECEI best practice and how to find this out.

The recommendation essentially puts ECEI providers – unregistered and registered – on notice: a push for greater NDIS and ECEI best practice compliance – and better transparency around these – is coming.

Consultation currently underway is seeking feedback on how to make this a reality. Ideas put forward in the consultation papers2 include:

  • providing better information to families about the benefits of using providers registered with the NDIS Commission
  • establishing an industry-led ‘best practice accreditation system’
  • establishing a quality feedback or rating system’
  • making registration with the NDIS Commission mandatory for all ECEI providers, and
  • requiring self and plan-managed participants accessing ECEI support to use only registered ECEI providers.

While the future hasn’t been written yet, it’s clear that whatever happens, ECEI providers need to be prepared to clearly demonstrate how they comply with both NDIS requirements, as well as ECEI best practice standards, regardless of whether they are formally registered with the NDIS Commission or not. And while this is only one policy response out of over 20, it is absolutely necessary, in order to provide stressed and anxious families with the clarity and assurance they need to make empowered choices for them and their child.

The good news is that the current consultation process is still open, giving providers an opportunity to contribute to and shape the approach they’ll need to work within. Submissions close on Tuesday 23 February 2021.

1Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Implementation Reset – Project Consultation Report, National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), November 2020

2Supporting young children and their families early, to reach their full potential, National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), November 2020