Disability employment scheme: sudden exclusion, fish-slapped by Departments and their "systems"

Monty Python fish slapping dancePeople with autism have difficulty getting a job. The letter below describes the experience of one person and his carer on reaching a point just 2 years after leaving school. 

This experience shows that the Commonwealth Government's Disability Employment Scheme (DES) is largely intractable. The Australian Bureau of Statistics describes its abysmal outcomes for people with autism/ASD (link here): 

In 2012, the labour force participation rate for people with autism was 42%. This compares with 53% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities.

The 41.2% of people with autism in the labour market in 2012 experienced 23% unemployment (there is improvement since 2009 when labour force participation was just 34% and unemployment was 41%).

The letter below provides numerous recommendations. The autism/ASD community is watching for improvements to disability employment services ... to see whether the Government responds to recommendations below; only action will indicate their genuine interest in creating employment services and supports that help people with autism/ASD get jobs.


The Hon Kevin Andrews MP
Minister for Social Security
Parliament House

Subject: Fish-slapped by two Federal Government Departments and a hostile DES provider system.

Dear Minister,

My son, M, with Asperger’s Disorder finished school 2 years ago.

On Friday 31 October 2014, I called his DES (Disability Employment Service) provider to check on his progress with P.R.E.P.A.R.E, a 4 week, on average half day per week, internal course they run to assist clients to find employment.

The response was extremely unexpected. I was informed that he had been exited from their service.  The co-ordinator had no explanation as to why and indicated that she was surprised by this development, as neither the DES provider, nor my son, as a client had requested this and all parties had complied with all requirements. 

She regretted that her agency's hands were tied and I (as M’s registered representative) would have to take the matter up with Centrelink. She reassured me that her agency were happy with my son as a client and would be happy for him to continue with them once the matter was sorted out.

I rang Centrelink enquiries on the first 1300 number. I was told that he had been automatically exited because he has accessed DES providers for 2 years. I was advised to call the Commonwealth Department of Education and was given a 1300 number to call.

The Department of Education person confirmed the advice regarding the automatic 2 year cut off point and added that M would have to undertake a new job capacity assessment, after which he would be referred to a 'new', being either his immediately past previous or a totally new, DES provider.

She added that it was a legislated measure and if I wanted to do anything about it I should contact my local member. Meanwhile, she advised me to call Centrelink to book a job capacity assessment.

I called yet another Centrelink 1300 number and spoke to a person who confirmed the 2 year cut off. He looked up my sons file and saw that M had recently (July 2014) had a job capacity assessment immediately prior to (a prerequisite for) transferring to his current DES provider on grounds of a better (discernibly active) employment service for M.

He advised me to go into my local Centrelink office to speak to a Client Service Officer.

By now I had made 3 phone calls, spent an average of 15 minutes on hold for each and a further 20 minutes on average in discussions for each call.

I went to my local Centrelink office taking with me my eldest son with autism and M with Asperger’s Disorder.

After another 15 minutes wait in the Centrelink office I spoke to a Centrelink officer. She berated me for being upset and dished up a potent serving of ageism. She got a brief sketch of the problem and offered to book a job capacity assessment. I suggested that this might be unnecessary (possibly a flagrant waste of limited government resources) given the existence of a relatively recent conduct assessment. I protested that this should be current. She said that thus was the system and after 2 years a new and up to date job capacity assessment was mandatory. This makes no sense.

The Centrelink system showed M’s current DES provider status as “full”, that is no space for 'new' clients.

The Centrelink officer called the DES provider to ask if they had any vacancies to offer once another new assessment had been ticked off. She addressed the young receptionist at the DES provider as "a legend" and used the words "sweet as", in marked contrast to her perfunctory utterances to me. Meanwhile my son, M the client, was horrified to learn the implications of being kicked out, "exited", once he caught up and was able to keep pace with the terminology.  My eldest was wandering around the workstations, also stressed.

The DES provider advised the Centrelink officer that there were vacancies for 'new ' clients. The Centrelink officer said that if they had a vacancy he could be assigned to them, but only after an assessment.

The Centrelink officer revisited the fact of the recent assessment, albeit under duress. She called the DES provider office manager. He referred the case to his relevant IT staff to reaffirm the vacancy. She then checked their system, after a short interval and reiterated that there was no vacancy. She advised that the system was a Department of Education system and that we should wait until Monday to see whether their system reflected the fact of a vacancy. I questioned whether she should action the status to trigger this update in any way. She proceeded to tell me, that I didn't understand how these computer systems worked. She engaged in an explanation. I advised that I was familiar with both online and batch processing and 'handshaking' and data sharing across departments and agencies, having worked in IT.

I then went to the DES provider, in the same building. Initially the manager was dismissive. He followed the line that the system was the system and he had to comply with it. Meaning, my son would have to be reassessed and could only recommence as their client once this was done.

Note that, at no point, did my son or any of his representatives, receive or have access to any advice, written or oral, any calendar, reminder letters, or any knowledge of the 2 year immutable process.

The manager put me through to the regional manager. She acknowledged that her organisation had overlooked the impending 2 year (accumulated total across DES providers) mark. They should have advised us as clients. This was of no use to us. My eldest was devouring their afternoon tea and fiddling with items in their workstations. Their 'former' client, my youngest, was rigid and uncharacteristically quiet.

I went back to Centrelink and asked to speak to someone with a modicum of humanity who was not ageist.

My son had a call on his phone. The advice was that he was back on the books for his immediate past prior DES provider. We went to that office to sign the necessary 'new client' forms.

The stress of this encounter reverberated throughout our family and our home for four days and three nights of fitful sleep.

As a person who doesn't have a diagnosed disability I have the following concerns.

Firstly, where is the accessible communication and notices of upcoming, impending exclusion of clients?

Recommendations:

a) Fix this and enshrine a consultation process with the client three months prior to the systematic exclusion.

b) Government Departments communicate simultaneously with clients and their DES providers.

c) Provide for clients a calendar of key events and milestones and issue reminders of impending key dates.

d) Fix the Centrelink system to retain seamlessly client status as a client of a DES provider that the client is happy with. Once the current system silently exits a client, he/she is off the client list for the DES Provider; the door closes, that provider’s list is full. The process of getting back on/into the system is inefficient and a waste of everyone’s time and resources.

e) Ensure Centrelink only employs staff with empathy for clients and client representatives at least in frontline roles, if not through out the organisation. Centrelink cannot function efficiently and effectively with ageist staff and other overt bigotry on its frontline.

 Secondly, how do people with disability afford numerous extended phone calls, especially those who have to use mobile phones?

How can a person with communication, cognitive and/or sensory disability negotiate a path through this labyrinthine, hostile system, which eludes reason and confuses those who do not have disabilities? 

Recommendation:

That all clients have advocates.

Thirdly

The DES provider system is already a deeply flawed system. There are no Service Level Agreements, activity statements or terms of personal engagement for clients who are disenfranchised. But that is it's own chapter.

Recommendation:

Implement SLAs, activity statements, log books and measures to build personal and professional development plans for clients in accessible formats. 

People with autism spectrum disorder are not well served by even the best of the DES provider system. Generic infrastructure and service strategies for people with disabilities are not meeting the needs of my sons on the autism spectrum.

My recent experiences were surreal, like something from the Monty Python Show: it feels like I have been fish-slapped by two federal government departments and a hostile, unproductive, disenfranchising, marginalising DES provider system. 

Ms Y Z
Parent/advocate

14/11/2014