Contemporary support: looking beyond the jargon

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This is the first blog post from our new CEO, Justin O’Meara Smith. Justin joined the team in February and brings with him a wealth of knowledge and many years’ experience working in senior management roles within the disability sector. Read his full profile here.

I have had the pleasure of being CEO of Interchange for the past three weeks. A very short time in the history of this organisation, but enough time for me to see the great capacity, positive culture and contemporary practices of our staff and hear some of the stories of the people we support.

This tells me that the organisation has truly been in good hands. It is also encouraging to see staff with such a sincere and deep belief in the right of people with disability to full citizenship.

I have seen evidence of our G-R-I-T values (Growth, Respect, Integrity and Trust) in our staff and support. For that I recognise the leadership of our previous CEO, Wendel Bamford, and the numerous formal and informal leaders across the organisation who have developed and nurtured this culture.

I have visited our seven offices across the metropolitan area and have met our Managers and Community Facilitators. What I have seen and heard suggests to me that we have a contemporary approach and a sincere belief that the people we support have the right and the ability to be active citizens within the community in which they live  in our words. Everyone belongs.

This belief makes me feel excited about our future and the future of the people we support, as we embark on the transformational change that is the WA NDIS (but that is a topic for another blog!).

Contemporary is a word we hear often in a disability service context, but it can be quite difficult to articulate or define. There are many buzz words (our industry, like many others, is great at creating jargon or service speak) to suggest what contemporary services and support look like. What these words propose are indeed contemporary approaches, but the question remains: what makes them contemporary and what does it really mean?

When one works in a religious organisation there is a unifying belief, a culture or charism that speaks of virtue, justice and belief that inspires people to do good things and live a good life. When approaching their work, staff in these organisations ask, What would Jesus, Muhammad, Budda or Vishnu do? Inevitably it is aspirational  something that is perceived to be right – or to do the best for the people they serve.

In a secular organisation like Interchange, we don’t have a unifying belief based on religious faith; but we do have a unifying belief and faith. It’s a belief and faith in the people we support. We believe all people have the right and ability to be active citizens within their community, to achieve their dreams and live a good life. Citizens who are recognised for their rights and the valuable role they play in creating welcoming and diverse communities where everyone belongs.

Contemporary for Interchange is about a person-centred approach where we take the time to know the person, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and needs. We ensure the people we support are in the centre of decision-making to guide and direct us  put simply  nothing about me without me.

This means providing active support where the people we support use their skills and talents in everyday activities that challenge and inspire them. It also means seeing every opportunity as a learning opportunity to maintain and develop abilities and independence.

Finally, it is about providing just enough support: to walk alongside the people we support, listen, observe and discern how they want to be supported, when and how much. Each day this discernment can lead us to offering a little more or a little less support, but always in a way that ensures that the people we support are enabled and getting only the support they need.

There is so much more to share about what we think and what we believe, but I will leave this to another day. I am so pleased to have joined Interchange and look forward to my ongoing involvement in a contemporary and dynamic team that has belief and faith in the work that we do, our staff, our community and the people we support.

Justin O’Meara Smith