Frontline Initiative International
A Glimpse of Direct Support Work Down Under
Greetings from Sydney, Australia, the Olympic city! We’ll take a break from the “barbie” (the barbecue, not the doll) to tell you about the situation for direct support workers in one accommodation service in Australia. We are from the Macarthur Accommodation System (MAS), a small non-profit private accommodation service for people with intellectual disability in southwestern Sydney. We support 18 adults in seven households. Most people have low to moderate support needs. None of the houses have overnight staff.
Staffing for the whole organization includes two full-time staff members who deal mostly with administration and management issues (but in a small agency like this, one needs to be flexible and versatile), five part-time direct support workers, seven regular casuals (temporary staff) and three relief casuals. Except for biweekly staff meetings, the direct support staff’s time is taken up solely by face-to-face work with consumers in their homes or local community. There are no live-in staff. A typical week’s activities may include assisting individuals with money management, cooking, household and personal shopping, doctors visits, household chores, hygiene, safety, personal counseling, and serving as a liaison with family members and work or day programs.
Typically support workers start work at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays (when the persons we support are returning home from work) and finish at about 8:30 p.m. Some support workers work in one household, others between two houses that are located a few blocks to a few kilometers apart. To ensure activities take place regularly, a daily schedule is planned carefully. For example, budgeting may take place on Wednesdays, menu planning and shopping list on Thursdays, followed by shopping on Friday. Specific arrangements are made in consultation with consumers and usually depend on consumers’ schedules. For example, some people have every second Friday off work (a “flexi day”), so shopping occurs with staff support on Fridays.
For most service users, there is no effective case management system in our state (New South Wales), so staff and family have considerable responsibility in helping individuals make important life decisions. For example, one man in his 40s with Down syndrome has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his support needs have increased dramatically. To date, staff have been able to support him in his home, but it seems inevitable that he will eventually move to a nursing facility. Making this decision will be distressing for all concerned because of the close relationship that exists between staff and consumers in a small and personal agency like MAS.
This man’s situation also highlights funding concerns. For many months, his vastly increased support needs did not result in any additional government funding for the agency, although this was provided eventually. Meanwhile, the extra support was provided either by reorganizing existing support or spending more money than the agency receives.
A typical pay rate for a direct support worker at our type of agency is $13.30 per hour for a casual staff member (at current exchange rates this equals $8.25 in U.S. currency). This is the base rate. For evening or weekend work a worker receives 15% more between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. on weekdays, 50% more on Saturdays, 75% more on Sundays, and 150% more on public holidays. Permanent staff at the same level would be paid less than this per hour because they receive holiday pay and sick leave. All permanent staff are entitled to a minimum of four weeks annual vacation (by state law). People also receive an extra 17.5% compensation on their four weeks holiday pay, ten days per year paid sick leave, and after ten years with the same agency, staff are entitled Long Service Leave, which is about eight weeks paid vacation (also mandated by state law).
Well, we hope that gives you a glimpse of direct support down under.