Hi. My name is Fiona and I’m an Early Intervention Special Educator by trade, with a BA Dip Disability, as well as a recently completed graduate Diploma as a Quality Auditor. I have been working at Royal Far West since 2014 when I was employed to establish the disability specific service offering, which I named Windmill. My current title is Senior Disability Advisor and I’m responsible for developing and maintaining relationships within the disability and community sectors. This raises our profile and has seen us recognised as an important contributor, innovator and doer in this incredibly complex and constantly changing area.
I am also responsible for our consumer engagement strategy and lead this across the organisation to ensure the opinions and voices of the families and children who we work with are valued and respected and used to drive service innovation.
Through this work we are now acknowledged as an industry leader in providing innovative services to children in rural and remote areas. This has led to increased referrals to our Windmill program, which, at its centre, is all about family capacity. This means that when the families stay with us for a week at a time, they work with the therapists to increase their confidence, knowledge and skills so that they can work with their child through daily activities in their home environment, thereby increasing the child’s opportunity to master the skills and succeed. This also gives families back a sense of control and enjoyment of their child.
To spread the word of our Windmill program, I constantly liaise with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Local Area Coordinators, Reimagine Australia ( previously known as Early Childhood Intervention Australia or ECIA )various rural NGOs, and, most critically, parents, carers and children.
The most important advice I give to families:
Never, never, give up, no matter what the diagnosis. This is still your child who will fill you with delight, and you will be even more thrilled and proud of their achievements than a typically developing child because it may take them just a little longer to achieve their milestones.
My typical day:
Every day is on the go. I work with families who have just begun their NDIS journey, helping them to obtain an NDIS package, especially if they have been rejected previously. It is a very complex process for families to navigate alone, filled with jargon and intimidating forms.
Once they secure a package, I work with them to activate it and explain how to use the NDIS funding to purchase blocks of our Windmill program’s therapy services, or alternative services in their local area.
With the extensive development of teletherapy options families are being offered much greater choice than ever, and it is terrific to see them continue to select to access Windmill because of its commitment to their child, and delivery of positive child and family focused outcomes.
Highlights of my work:
It really is such a wonderful feeling to know that I’ve been able to help a child and their family, and this keeps me enthused and motivated year after year.
Giving parents hope and enabling them to see a brighter future for themselves and their child; empowering parents to be effective advocates for their child; watching children with disabilities learn something new, master it, and be so proud of themselves; and seeing the smiles on parents faces when this happens are all such precious moments and it’s such an honour to share these milestones with the families.
Setting up the Windmill program was a special highlight for me, particularly seeing the positive impact it is making on children and their families in rural and remote areas of Australia. The TAG line of ‘Powering Ability Together ‘gives such a positive and inclusive message which is really what the program is all about and highlights that this is about a partnership between families and staff. I’d love to share a quote one of our early Windmill families sent to me:
“We were so lost, we felt that the rug had been pulled from under us, and we didn’t know where we were going. Within just a week we have learnt to communicate with our little boy and found our joy in him again – we will never be able to thank you enough.”
My journey to RFW:
I have worked across the disability sector throughout my career. I have managed workshops where I set up and developed work skills programs for adults with disabilities, managed residential services, sat on two Boards as a non-executive director, lectured at TAFE, was a Senior Manager of Early Intervention Services (maintaining a clinical load) and a Child Development Coordinator for Medicare Local.
I sit on several invited and elected membership committees, the National Disability Services Children and Family subcommittee, Agency for Clinical Innovation disability workforce, and National Disability Practitioners Committee.
I’m an active member of Reimagine Australia (Early Childhood Intervention Australia) and, to keep me connected to the realities of raising a child with a disability, I maintain a private practice in Western Sydney where I deliver sessions to children and families on weekends. I specialise in working with children who are nonverbal and have more complex needs, as these children tend to be placed in the ‘too hard ‘basket. I love being able to give them and their families the opportunity to find their voice and communicate their needs and wants, just like any other child.