MY NQ ENABLE JOURNEY
And a brief history of Disability Services in Queenlsland
My name is Ray Lihou, I founded NQ Enable in 2017 as a Private Practice, and NDIS Provider.
Telling the story of NQ Enable requires some background and starts with 'My Journey'.
'My Journey' began over 30 years ago, when I volunteered at a group home supporting people with disabilities with personal care and meals. It was a government run group home, affectionately referred to as 'the Villas'. Within a few months I was offered a job as a Residential Care Officer, which was then part of the Department of Health - Mental Retardation Unit.
Today, that doesn't sound politically correct, but it was how people with disabilities were thought of in society at that time. The next 30 years saw many significant changes in disability care not only in Queensland, but also across Australia and around the world. Our understanding of the rights and dignity of people with disabilities grew, and so to did mays of caring.
Residential Care in the 80's provided health and wellbeing care to people with disabilities, but rarely met the social and developmental needs of clients to achieve any meaningful goals. That's not to say we didn't try, but the sector was in its infancy, and we had so much too learn.
Gradually public funding increased and services, like community access and therapy services became more accessible and disability specialised. Yet, many people still lived with their families, or were relinquished into the care of the state. Only a few received any additional support, with access to Government funded services limited to occasional respite.
By the early 90's, people started getting access to Government funded Programs. Early childhood services and some adult therapy services began to be offered. Also, charitable organisations started receiving funding to provide more supports and services.
During these early years, my skills and knowledge had increased and I was working with people moving out of institutions into the community. Many with highly complex needs.
Although disability care had come a long way for most people it was still a 'care for' model of existence, with little choice about how services were delivered. Ideas of Social Role Valorisation and Person Centred Planning were promoted, but rarely did they translate into innovative care or support services. Some families advocated for change, and the system responded eventually.
I knew I needed to do, to become involved in the changes. I wanted to know I was making a real difference in peoples lives. I also knew I could only change the system from within.
Maya Angelou said,'If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.' So, in 1996 I enrolled at Queensland University of Technology in a Bachelor of Social Sciences - Human Services course.
My three years in University were stimulating, exciting and challenging. I relished learning about human rights, social policy, psychology and human development. Which connected my lived experience to knowledge and theory so I could work within ethical and practice frameworks. Learned skills like counselling and case work are the tools I use every day.
By the time I graduated the Queensland's disability sector had grown with exciting new funding programs which aspired to mould services and build capacity for people to live as valued members of their community. Disability Services Queensland had become its own department, with its own policies and guidelines on how care and services were delivered to people.
One of these new programs was the Family Support Program and soon after graduating I joined the FSP team as a Facilitator. The work was fulfilling, providing case management to families and there was some discretionary funds we could use to make a difference. Supports were flexible and intended to help the family member with disabilities to remain at home. Although we could be innovative, it limited peoples choice of moving out and living independently.
So by 2014, the Family Support Program had transitioned into Case Management. I still had a few of my FSP families, but many transitioned out of the program into other supports, and some even found greater independence. I started getting new clients, with more complex disabilities and life issues, some considered as being a social risk and almost all had no informal supports. Again it was time to learn new skills and ways of working. It was classic case management, intensely person centred engaging across multiple government agencies and therapy services.
It was very intense and stimulating work, but I still had a sense of frustration from working within the limitations of a government system. I needed something new, something which allowed the flexibility to do the work I enjoyed and where I could make a difference.
It wasn't until 2016, when Townsville & North Queensland began transitioning to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that fate and an opportunity presented itself to do something new.
By November 2016, Disability Service was really starting to wind down, and many people began to transition into the NDIS world.
As more information began to become available I could see the Disability Sector would grow and there would be work available away from government. That's when I started really considering Specialist Support Coordination as my new career. The more I read, the more I was convinced that Supports Coordination was the right fit with my skills and knowledge, and it would challenge me.
The final decision was whether I would work for another organisation. This was just not appealing, especially after being an employee for so long. And then I would have to learn to 'fit in' with a whole new way of doing things.
So, after years of frustration with organisational limitations and complaining about a system that wasn't going to change, it was time to put my words into action, and set-up my own practice.
For me, Private Practice was something other people did, and was scary. All I could see were 'barriers', financial risks, having to learning new skills and 'would I get the clients'?
A friend reminded me: 'everything in life is a risk so enjoy the journey and give it a go!'
All too soon I was out of my comfort zone, discovering a whole new set of skills and challenges. It took a while to get everything in place, but it happened. All registered and business like, and so this is were I can tell you about were the name came from.
Firstly, the 'NQ' is the easiest part, because for the last 12 years I have lived and worked in North Queensland. I have become a local, a part of your community, and I know some of the challenges and advantages of living here.
The second part of the name is 'Enable' which the Webster dictionary literally defines as to 'give (someone) the authority or means to do something' and to 'make it possible for things to happen.' This for me means 'Enable' is about how I'd prefer to work with you.
To work beside you in a partnership to 'enable' you to reach your goals.
To 'enable' you to find your own responses to challenges and barriers that hold you back.
To 'enable' you to be the independent and valued person you've always desired.
To 'enable' you to take the authority in your life to live the good life of your dreams.
So for people with disabilities living in North Queensland I am here to Enable your 'good life'