Episode 4 - Support coordination with Collin Mullan

This conversation with Collin has been so informative. It was a long conversation packed with wisdom, so I will sum up the conversation and highlight the important points in the show notes.

Support coordination is one of the categories of funding that people will often see in their NDIS plan. It can be broken down into probably four key roles within support coordination. So there's level one, level two and level three support coordination. And there's also psychosocial recovery coaching, which is very similar. 

 Level 1 

It's usually under 24 hours a year. So very minimal work needs to be done. It's just a contact point.

 Level 2

The second level is called coordination of support. And that's what I do and what the vast majority of support coordinators do in NDIS. And that's a more detailed approach to helping people implement their plans. And it's got a big focus on capacity building. So allowing some assistance to, for participants to learn how to manage their own plans and engage their services.


Level 3

The third level is called specialist support coordination. That's for more complex needs. A specialist support coordinator is quite often an allied health professional or a social worker. So they've got some extra skills to deal with complex issues that might be people who are involved in the justice system and have drug and alcohol issues on top of their disability or maybe facing homelessness or have a very complex care team that needs to be coordinated.

Level 4

And then the fourth one that I mentioned was psychosocial recovery coaching. So that's a distinct focus on mental health. It's a lot more flexible with the support. 

 Support coordination is really a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five job. Psychosocial recovery is a lot more flexible and can be provided outside of those hours, across weekends. It can be used in a crisis management situation. 

The vast majority of participants that are going to have support coordination is going to be at that level two coordination of support. And just to put people in the picture, about 40% of participants will have support, coordination, and funding. So it's not open to everybody, but you can ask for it. So if, if a participant feels that they need some help with their plan, particularly if it's their first plan, they can ask for support coordination to be put into that funding.

If people are struggling to implement their plan and they're not getting support from the agency or the LAC, they can always go back and ask for support coordination. They can put in a change of circumstances to say, I'm struggling with this, I can't get my services engaged, I need some help. Please give me a support coordinator. 


An analogy

 Entering NDIS territory is like going on a holiday to a foreign country where you don't understand the language. They have different customs, different laws, and different cultures. It's just new territory. The support coordinator is the tour guide. So they're going to try and get you the best experience possible. They're going to help you navigate unfamiliar territory. They are going to translate for you. They're going to help you avoid the pitfalls. And if you're in a foreign country and you want to go and visit a place, they'll go, no, no, no, let's not go at nine o'clock in the morning because everyone else will be there. Let's go at three o'clock in the afternoon, and you'll get a better view and experience. That's the role of the support coordinator to help guide you to get the best experience.

And it's also about minimizing risk as well. So ensuring that you get safe, quality services in place that you're protected from people who might defraud you or not provide the best services possible. So to go back to what you were saying, there are a few things that support coordinators do, and NDIS has a big list of what the role is, a little bit of a list of what the role isn't. So the primary function is to help facilitate the plan implementation. So again, it's that navigating, the advising, it's about unpacking the budget, so understanding what all the categories of funding are and how they can be used appropriately and assisting the participant in making that last for the life of the plant. The other aspects that we look at with support coordination is researching different options, providing a range of solutions and a range of services and providers so that the participant can choose the one that they feel most comfortable with and also, you know, mediating any issues that might crop up as well.

What should participants or their loved ones look for when they're choosing a support coordinator?


Summer Foundation has a great booklet on choosing a support coordinator. There are two things to look at in choosing a support coordinator. Number 1 is an essential criterion number 2 is a personal preference.


Essential criteria -

  •  I would say get a local coordinator so someone knows your area and the available services. Remote work might work for some people, but it's going to be very difficult for the operator to understand the local market in another area and know who the good service providers are and the ones to stay away from.


  • Experience brings knowledge, and you refer to the NDIS is a maze if you don't know your way through the maze, the coordinator's going to get lost with the participant. 


  • Asking questions about a person's work history and background experience will help and bring some comfort to that question.


  • The other thing is the capacity and the caseload that the coordinator has. So that's going to vary depending on whether that coordinator is part-time or full-time. If they work for themselves or in a bigger organization, that capacity is going to change. But generally, if the support coordinator's got a caseload of 40 to 50 participants that they're assisting, that's really, really busy, and they may be spread too thin, they may not be reachable all the time, they may not be able to attend to the crises if they come up. Whereas someone working full-time, if they only have a caseload of 25 or 30, they're going to have much more flexibility to respond in a better way. 
  • Asking the question about capacity is really important. Harking to whether they're a sole trader or work for a big organisation, what happens when that person goes on leave or they get sick? What's the backup plan? 


Personal preference

  • I think it's really important to have that rapport between a participant and any service provider, particularly the support coordinator. 
  • There's one point that probably sits between the essential and the personal preferences. I would call it essential. Other people would say it's a preference.

That is how independent is the support coordinator. What potential conflict of interest might they have? So if they work for a big organisation that provides a whole range of NDIS services, what's their conflict of interest policy? Are they going to recommend that the participant use that organization's services? An independent support coordinator, particularly someone not delivering other services, will not have that same conflict of interest. So some people love the one-stop shop.So a participant might find that's the easy way to go, but for others, independence, unbiased, objective advice is really important

  • . Another factor that people will need to consider is whether the provider is registered or unregistered. So depending on how the plan funding works, if the NDIA manages the funding for support coordination, then the provider must be registered. If the funding is self-managed or plan-managed, then the participant has a choice of any provider to deliver that support. 

  • Couple of more things that are really good for personal preferences, your own values and the work style of the provider. So things like communication, are their processes going to work in with the needs of the participant?For example, I have a participant who prefers to get all documents printed, and in the mail and in this day and age where we're all used to email and high technology, some providers may not work with the old print and mail-out and get it returned a week later in the mail.


  • The other thing is specialisations. A lot of support coordinators may specialize. Now that could be in the type of disability, it might be in the age bracket, it could be in in the specific type of service that they focus on or the area within NDIS. So for me, I really enjoy working with families that are going through a transition. So it might be a teenager that's about to leave school, get into employment, look at a future possibility of having their own independent life in their own home, that kind of transition. So I tend to focus on that. Some other support quotas may focus on specific disabilities or they may focus on, uh, particular age groups. So for me, I really don't work a lot with young children, particularly those in the early childhood situation.
  •  The other question I would ask of a support coordinator is how do they bill. Some support coordinators may bill in increments, for example, 15-minute increments. So if they have a phone call with a participant that lasts five minutes, they may bill 15 minutes because that's the way their systems are set up. Some may bill in smaller increments, five minutes or six minutes. I bill in six minutes because it's very easy. It's one 10th of an hour. Makes accounting really easy. But if a participant has three phone calls, for example, in a day, and each of those five-minute phone calls adds up to 15 minutes, the question would be, is the support coordinator going to build one lot of 15 minutes or three lots of 15 minutes? And that can make a really big difference in someone's funding. 
  • The second part of that is how they bill for travel. So with a lot of support and support coordination, providers can bill for their travel time. So the time that they take to go to a participant's home for a meeting, they can also bill for the kilometre usage of their vehicle. And again, all of that adds up. So it's really good to ask questions about how they bill and what they bill for so that it's a clear understanding of what will get charged.

What happens when you find that there is a lot more need for your role in a plan than the funding is for? And this is a common thing.


Yeah, it's very, very difficult. We have to work with what we've got, unfortunately. As I mentioned before, someone's only got 24 hours in their plan, which needs to last a whole year, particularly if it's their first plan. There will be a lot of time spent in the first couple of months of that plan engaging new service providers, setting things up and ensuring that the services are running smoothly. So probably half of that 24 hours is going to be used in the first couple of months just setting everything up. And that doesn't leave a lot of time for the support coordinator for the rest of, the plan period. Especially if there's a crisis that comes up or there's a significant change. If at the outset, and this is where you have a good conversation with a support coordinator about what they can and what they can't do within that funding, if there's an agreement between the coordinator and the participant that there is insufficient funds, you can always go back for a plan review so the participant can seek to get that reviewed.

It really requires some good evidence though. It's very hard to do in the first year of a first plan. because the NDIA  just like to throw out a number and hope it fits, hope it works. Once there's the second plan, third plan, you know, into the second, third year, that kind of thing. There's plenty of evidence, there's a trend there about what is being used and what is being used for. And that can justify future plans. But for the first plan, it's sometimes a bit of a lottery as to what people will get in their funding. A good support coordinator will monitor the budget, so I will never allow my services to go over the budgeted amount. Maintaining contact communication with the participant, keeping them updated on how that service is going and what's remaining is really important so that nobody is caught off guard. And the worst thing is possible is to run out of money, and I can't deliver services anymore. Every coordinator will have a different approach to how they do that. I have a backup of reserves that I tap into if anybody needs any extra assistance. But generally, we're monitoring and ensuring that doesn't happen on a constant basis.

What is two or three pointers that you can give the new support coordinators that if they are coming in, they're new, how they can build their own professional capacity to be as strategic and as good as you work? So what can you tell us about that?

Okay. A few points. Read a lot, and constantly. The one thing about the NDIS is things are always changing. Yes. So staying up to date on all the changes is probably the one constant of being a support coordinator. And there are a few things you can do. You attend the updates NDIA run updates on a regular basis. I have a system that notifies me when there's a change to particular pages on the NDIA website. So I can review those updates. Subscribe to the newsletters from a, a range of organizations, not just the NDIA but the Quality and safeguards commission. There are a few bodies that people should join to get updates and do lots of training. There are a lot of free webinars that providers put out there. In particular, I'm finding from plan managers. The big plan management companies are doing a lot to add value to the community. So they're running a lot of update webinars that are completely free and are really good value for particularly upcoming support coordinators. There's a lot of training, uh, paid training as well that's available that people can tap into a, a few really good organisations that are doing some great quality in-depth training, but particularly keep reading, particularly the price guide. 

Now tell us who Colin is and how he got into support coordination.


Yeah, I came into it in a rather roundabout way for, you know, a couple of decades I was working in the corporate sector and then the great financial crisis hit, and lots of change happened at that point. And I reassessed where I was. I was actually working in the recruitment industry at the time, and I took an opportunity to make a bit of a tree change. I jumped into the disability employment service. So I was using my skills there, and okay, it took me probably just a couple of months to realise what a breath of fresh air working it was. I was working for a not-for-profit. So that's one thing. Very different from the corporate sector, but finding some real value in what I was doing, not just chasing dollars for someone else that owns a company but really adding value to the community.

I had disability employment for a couple of years, and then the NDIS made its appearance. I was in Perth at the time and jumped into NDIS as an unreal situation called support coordination that we had no idea what it was. We kind of just invented it as we went along. At that point, there was very little guidance from the NDIA. So yeah, plotted along with that for a while and saw the rollout across Australia develop. I moved to Catherine in the Northern Territory in 2017 to help a not-for-profit get set up and make the transition to NDIS when they were rolling out there. And then, in 2018, I moved to Melbourne during the rollout here. So most recently, I was managing a team of 14 support coordinators at Victoria's largest community organisation. And then, at the end of last year, I made the decision to set up my own agency, I really haven't looked back. It's been an amazing journey for me. So I set up my coordinator. 


Those looking to engage Collin as a support coordinator, coach, or consultant can reach him on 0452506926.


Other details are as follows 


Summer Foundation booklet - How to choose a support coordinator