NDIS funding hampers adoption of parenting skills program

| October 26, 2018

A parenting program that brings benefits for parents and children with developmental disabilities will become unavailable for most families under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to a new research report.

The report on the Stepping Stones Triple P program says the program has attracted 3,000 participants in three states and has seen significant improvement in mental health, and financial hardship among families with children with developmental disabilities, such as autism and cerebral palsy.

The five-year study assessing the program is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, The University of Queensland and Monash University.

However, the study’s lead investigator Professor Stewart Einfeld from the University of Sydney said the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding and delivery model will prevent the program from being easily delivered and accessed by parents

“Ninety five percent of our participants were serviced through organisations like schools or disability agencies they were already connected with, but now these organisations don’t get sufficient funding anymore because the funding predominantly goes to individuals,” said Professor Einfeld, of the Brain and Mind Centre.

“We cannot expect these parents, who are often under a great deal of stress to pool NDIS funding, or to organise and sustain these kinds of groups.”

While 85 per cent of managers (16 of 19) from organisations who delivered the Triple P program as part of the study said they wanted to continue its delivery, they said this would rely on support from NDIS.

Challenges: parental stress, kids with emotional and behavioural problems

Children with developmental disabilities are up to four times more likely than other children to develop significant emotional and behavioural problems, leading to significantly higher rates of parental distress and anxiety.

“The severity of a child’s mental health and behavioural problems has a bigger impact on parents’ mental health than the severity of the child’s disability,” said Professor Emeritus Bruce Tonge, Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, Monash University.

“These problems can lead to parental distress, financial burden and isolation, and even relinquishment of their child.”

Stepping Stones Triple P program developer Professor Matt Sanders from The University of Queensland said the study was the largest service-based evaluation of a parenting intervention conducted with children with disabilities and their families.

Benefits for kids and parents

Fifty-five per cent of parents who participated in the Stepping Stones Triple P program reported improvements in their own stress levels and wellbeing.

“Parents in the program became more consistent in their parenting strategies, using more positive encouragement, and reported lower levels of depression and anxiety,” said Professor Sanders, Professor of Clinical Psychology.

“Three months after completing the program, a significant decrease was shown on all measures of negative behaviour in children, and these improvements were maintained up to 12 months after the program. The program also returned financial benefits, saving $574 per family per year primarily because of parents’ increased capacity to return to work.”

The program also attracted more than four times as many participants as traditional specialist clinical consultations, showing it could reach people that would generally miss out on these services.

“It is clear that the NDIS needs to include a mechanism to enable community agencies and schools to run evidence-based programs such as this,” said Professor Sanders.

The Stepping Stones Triple P program found that children’s behaviour and parents’ skills improved as a result of participation and results achieved by community-based delivery was similar to those seen in previous University located and controlled trials.

Parenting skills improved by becoming more positive and less coercive and parent’s stress reduced following the program, although the reduction in parental stress was not as great in families with financial hardship.  However the program helped families financially as they were able to take less time off work and high levels of participation were achieved.

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