Values at the forefront of new chapter for Interchange

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This is my last blog as I am leaving Interchange to take a break and seek new opportunities in the social sector. I have been CEO of Interchange for exactly ten years now and so, after also celebrating our 25th Anniversary this year, it seems a good to time to pass on the baton to Michael Chester  my loyal Deputy and the now Acting CEO of Interchange.

Interchange was formed in 1991 to provide day-options for school-leavers with significant disabilities. Interchange families were instrumental in lobbying government to fund services for young people outside of sheltered workshops and institutionalised care. While initial concerns centred on parental respite, new funding models were essential for addressing entrenched discrimination and hidden neglect.

Interchange was chosen as the name of our organisation to remind stakeholders that positive social change was dependent on the full integration of people with disabilities into regular community life; that is  change through integration, hence Interchange.

While recent initiatives have focused more on community access, shared experience and full social participation  Interchange has stayed true to the vision of our founders with our current motto: Everyone Belongs.

Interchange began with block funding to service about 30 customers, with a Board of Directors comprised exclusively of family members. However, because our services were targeted at existing customers and families, we failed to replenish our organisation with new school leavers, qualified staff and experienced directors. Once at the forefront of change, we had failed to move with the times.

I became CEO of Interchange in late 2006. The path forward was clear: we needed a professional Board with experienced directors, new business practices for efficiency and accountability, a full and fair transition to individualised funding and ongoing growth in customer numbers and service options. Most importantly, we needed to realign our principles and practices with contemporary values and position ourselves at the cutting edge of the disability rights movement.

What I thought would take two years to achieve, has taken ten. But it’s been a remarkable journey. Interchange has expanded from one small office in Fremantle to seven Service Centres across the metropolitan area. Our funding has increased from $600,000 in 2006 to over $8.6m in 2016. Consequently, we now provide support to over 250 customers, employing over 100 qualified staff. All our services are completely individualised and we are recognised as a leading provider of local community-based support for people with disabilities.

The last two years have been extremely challenging, adapting our values-based service model to three different funding regimes: DSC, NDIS and WA NDIS. It has been a time of great uncertainty and we look forward to the introduction of a single person-centred funding model to benefit all Australians with disability.

Meanwhile, we have focused our services on what we do best Community Inclusion, Shared Management and Independent Living support. We have implemented a comprehensive Positive Behaviour Support Framework and strengthened our offering to school leavers with the addition of ASDAN programs and a complimentary Seamless Transition program. We’ve also established a Stakeholder Reference Group so that customers and families can have direct input into our policies and procedures.

So I am leaving Interchange in great shape, proud of my contribution but sad to say goodbye to so many friends and colleagues. I’d like to thank all of our customers, families, staff, stakeholders and Directors for their support and encouragement over the past decade. I am proud we have maintained our values-based culture and can-do attitude throughout.

Through stasis and growth, in good times and bad, our unrelenting focus on social justice and quality care has not only underwritten our success but now stands Interchange in good stead to face the challenges ahead.

Over to you Michael. Keep up the good fight. I look forward to reading your first blog knowing that Interchange is in good hands.

Wendel Bamford