We use the phrase person-centred as shorthand for the relationship we think should exist between a human service agency and each person they serve.
Typically, many human services are not adequately person-centred. One reason for this is that the purchaser – usually Government – buys services to cover a population of people. For people living with disability, this might be a group home, a day program, a sheltered workshop,, a respite centre, and the like. These are called 'block contract' services and they make it very hard to genuinely provide a personalised service that is focused on each individual and their circumstances, because the service has been bought for people as a group.
A second reason is that, typically, each human service agency develops a menu of services they want to offer. Once it has decided what it will offer, the human services agency is less likely to get to know each person really well, because they only need to know them well enough to decide which of their services they will best fit into. Instead of ‘person-centred’, this approach is ‘service-centred’.
For these and other reasons, the main types of service available to Australians living with disability are those that have offered very little flexibility for genuinely personalised responses.
The arrival of Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) brings an expectation that people living with disability will be able to access more personalised responses, in keeping with their choices and the goal of lifting people into valued roles in community life and economy.
This means that human service agencies needs to find ways to unlearn their service-centred habits, and to build a genuine person-centred relationship with each person they serve that delivers a much deeper insight into the person’s circumstances and the types of personalised response that will be most helpful.
This also means that people living with disability and their families may need time and help to claim their rightful place as citizens who are in charge of their own lives and who are actively involved in valued ways in the life of the wider community. Human service agencies need to support this, even if it creates uncertainties about the agency's future work.