Disability service providers: some basics

In an average year, families with a child with disability have contact with at least 10 different professionals and go to at least 20 appointments at hospitals and clinics. You might work with some professionals for just a short time, and have a long-term relationship with others.

You might also see several disability service providers and health professionals, including general practitioners, paediatricians, speech pathologists, physiotherapists, dietitians, psychologists and social workers. Each one specialises in a particular area, but sometimes their work overlaps.

People living in National Disability Insurance Scheme trial areas have different service and support options from people outside the trial areas. It’s worth checking out your options under the NDIS.

Deciding on  disability service providers

If you haven’t already been referred to a disability service or provider, you can talk about this with your GP or health professional. It might help if you work from a list of services in your area.

When you’re looking at your local disability services, you can try to find out whether:

  • the service is part of an accreditation system, is accredited and has a good reputation
  • the staff have professional accreditation and/or appropriate training
  • the service is professionally linked with other well-established services – for example, services associated with universities and hospitals are usually well researched and regulated.

Practical information is useful too. By contacting disability services directly, you should be able to find out things like:

  • the service’s operating hours
  • how long it takes to get an appointment
  • waiting lists
  • the service’s policy on cancelling appointments
  • emergency care or services
  • any written information about the service.

If you have time, try to meet with the service provider face to face, rather than over the phone. You can get a better feeling about the service this way, as well as more information. When you’re talking to services directly, make sure you know the name and position of the person you’re speaking to in case you need to follow up later.

You might like to read our tips on meeting with disability services and professionals.

Figuring out what services and professionals to go with was challenging, especially because I was still new at being the parent of a child with disability. I knew I was lucky to have these choices, but it was still hard to know how to make them. Once I’d gotten into it, having their support and help made a huge difference. I felt that we weren’t alone.
– Parent of a child with disability

Disability services: practical things to think about

When you’re looking at different services, consider these practical questions:

  • What kind of service will you and your child get – for example, hospital care, home visits, therapy sessions or group programs?
  • How much flexibility is there? In other words, how much choice will you have about what to use within the service?
  • Where will the service be provided – for example, via video conference, in your home, in the hospital, at a clinic, at a community centre, at an early learning centre or at school?
  • Can you and your child get to the service easily? For example, can you get there by public transport, or is there a car park nearby?
  • Can you get the service  by video conference if you can’t get out of the house or you live in a regional or remote area?
  • When and how often will your child get the service?
  • How long is each session likely to take?
  • How long will your child need the service?
  • Is there a cost involved?
  • Can the service give support and guidance to other organisations that your child might be involved with, such as sporting clubs?

If you have a choice between, say, a government service provider and a non-government service provider, such as a small community-based organisation, you might base your decision on what best suits your child and your family.

You could ask other parents about their experiences and recommendations. Face-to-face and online support groups can be a good way to connect with other families like yours.

What makes a good disability service provider?

Parents have found that the best disability service providers have the following five features.

Family centred
This means disability service providers:

  • are sensitive to your cultural, language and religious background and your family beliefs
  • work with you, use your special knowledge of your child, and involve you and your family in decisions about your child
  • give you enough time to ask questions and share your concerns
  • give you information that you can understand, and give you written information to back up what they say
  • provide services for your child that take into account your family and home situation.

Developmentally appropriate
This means disability service providers:

  • get a complete history of your child, including developmental, medical and medication history, and use this in planning how to work with your child
  • work with your child in ways that take into account your child’s development, interests and strengths
  • understand the complex ways that development, health and social and economic factors affect each other.

This means disability service providers:

  • plan and carry out activities as a team so the activities are all linked
  • help you get and understand the results of assessments of your child
  • communicate with other professionals and refer your child to these professionals if needed
  • link with other services, so you can get coordinated advice and support.

Technically competent
This means disability service providers:

  • know about medical issues related to the care of children with disability
  • do their work in a professional way
  • give you information about all possible intervention options so you can decide
  • help you work out the risks of treatment and make decisions
  • have professional qualifications in their area of expertise.

Interpersonally competent
This means disability service providers:

  • communicate openly, respectfully and effectively with your child, you and other family members
  • use technical skills while still relating to you and your child with kindness and respect.
Finding your way through the disability services system can be tricky. Our Disability Services Overview can help.

Weighing up disability services options

The disability services that are best for you and your child depend on your child’s and family’s particular needs. When you’re deciding on a service or provider, you can think about:

  • what your options are – is this the only provider or are there other good choices?
  • whether the service bases its approach on sound scientific knowledge
  • how comfortable you feel about any interactions you’ve had with the service
  • the personal and practical benefits
  • the personal and financial cost.

You could draw up a list of pros and cons to help you decide which service provider is right for you. And you’re entitled to get further opinions from other service providers if you’re not sure about the choice you’ve made.

The relationship with the service can affect the whole family. Where possible, you might want to take your partner with you and talk about your options together.