Registration and accreditation scheme for the Victorian disability workforce

In November 2016, the Victorian government announced it would establish an independent, legislated registration and accreditation scheme for Victoria’s disability workforce. AEU Victoria submitted its response to the government's consultation paper in September 2017.

  1. Legislated registration and accreditation system

The AEU strongly supports legislation being introduced to establish a registration and accreditation system for the disability workforce in Victoria.

Introducing a registration and accreditation system is particularly important at a time when, due to the NDIS roll-out, there will be a significant increase in the demand for disability services and a rapid expansion in the workforce (estimated by the consultation paper to grow from 19,550 – 23,900 at present to 34,400 – 42,000 by 2019). New quality assurance regulations are necessary to maintain and enhance quality during this period of growth.

A registration and accreditation system would provide safeguards through regulated standards and accurate and credible information to ensure that individuals entering the disability workforce have the skills and competencies needed, have passed probity checks and, where concerns are raised, have a formal right of review.

The registration and accreditation system would set and maintain minimum standards for entry to, and practice in, disability services and also deal with breaches of these minimum standards.

  1. Mandatory Registration

Registration should be mandatory for all individuals working in the disability sector. The scheme would provide for the registration of all Victorian disability workers, regardless of: the level of risk in their role; their field of work; or their relevant experience.

We do not support a voluntary registration scheme and believe it would create an unacceptable risk as it would allow service providers and self-managing NDIS participants to employ an unregistered worker (as long as the worker was not on a barred list or subject to a prohibition order due to misconduct) and therefore undermine the quality assurance and safeguards the registration process is designed to establish.

Employers should have a legal obligation to ensure that their staff whose work is covered by the registration system are registered. An employer would be committing an offence if they employ an unregistered worker for more than six months.

The system should include “volunteer” workers in keeping with the NDIS Code of Conduct which is proposed to apply to workers involved in providing NDIS-funded supports or services in any capacity. This includes employees, contractors, consultants, volunteers and people who are self-employed.

The one exception to the requirement that everyone who works with disabled people must be formally registered would be immediate family members.

  1. Differentiation within the register

The AEU supports in principle the idea of the register differentiating between the different classes of disability workers, with specific requirements for entry to each division of the register, and tailored accreditation and practice standards. This would depend on a prior mapping process which would identify the scope of practice of disability workers against the required skill levels and complexity of people’s needs. This would provide a basis for differentiating the various registration divisions and associated qualifications needed to perform certain types of higher risk activities.

The register should indicate where a worker has completed an advanced practice training program that trains practitioners for an expanded scope of practice (for example, the authority to prescribe restricted medicines).

The regulations should make it clear that an employer cannot require a registered disability worker to carry out tasks which fall outside of their qualifications and registration ‘division’ and that they will face penalties if they demand that an employee should do so.

  1. Existing Disability Workforce

Workers who are presently employed in disability services should be deemed to be registered at the commencement of the registration system. While some of these workers may not hold the required qualification for the work they are doing, specific provisions would support their registration providing that they meet the probity requirements within the legislation. Disability workers seeking registration who do not hold formal qualifications but have extensive on-the-job training and experience should not be disadvantaged by the introduction of the registration scheme.

Workers who have not commenced or completed an approved qualification but are otherwise suitable to provide direct support services should be registered and given  an agreed period of time to enrol in and complete the relevant TAFE qualification for their position. The AEU does not support in-house training by providers or recognition of prior learning (RPL) to complete the required qualification.

The regulator should explore the feasibility of developing and monitoring enforceable guidelines for competency-based pathways to registration.

  1. Provisional Registration

Provisional registration may be granted to new entrants to the sector on the basis of completion of an approved TAFE-based induction program, with the provisional registrant required to complete the necessary qualification over a three-year registration period.

  1. Workers registered under other systems

Workers in disability services who are already registered under another system (such as the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health practitioners) would be exempted from the requirement to register in the disability system once evidence of their registration is provided and accepted and as long as: they maintain their registration under the other scheme, and providing that the requirements for registration under the other system meet the appropriate standards for registration under the disability registration and accreditation system.

  1. Registration Board

The legislation should establish a registration board as an independent statutory authority as the regulator. The board would report through the responsible minister to the parliament.

The board should have a majority of members from the disability workforce which is being regulated. This is important to build and sustain the confidence of the workforce in the regulation process. Other members of the board representing the community could include people with lived experience of disability.

For the first few years the registration and accreditation system should be fully funded by government. After this period, conditions of employment fees linked to probity requirements (e.g. police checks) should be paid either by government or by employers. Any other registration fees should be kept at the lowest possible rate given the low wage levels and levels of insecure employment in the sector.

The exact powers the regulator should have are difficult to determine at present because of  developments at the national level, including the final scope of the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework (QSF),  but they should be framed to complement national arrangements and avoid duplication.

With the above proviso, the board’s quality assurance powers should include:

  1. Setting up and maintaining a public, searchable list of disability workers that would include details of any restrictions on their scope of practice.
     
  2. Determining enforceable entry level standards consisting of qualification and probity (ethical behaviour) requirements for registration. These should include:
  • qualifications and/or competencies for registration;
  • demonstrated commitment to ethical behaviour and the rights of people with disability;
  • language proficiency, to address the needs of people with disability;
  • criminal records, complaints history and reference checking.
     
  1. Setting standards for education and training programs, assessing programs against these standards, granting accreditation to those that comply and monitoring the performance of accredited programs against any accreditation conditions.
     
  2. Developing  a process for renewal of registration after a period of time (e.g. 3 years) involving evidence demonstrating recent practice and participation in professional development activities (e.g. skills maintenance). Professional development does not have to be a formally-certified study course but can include job shadowing, reading, mentoring or independent research.
     
  3. Assessing the qualifications and training of overseas trained practitioners.
     
  4. Developing and administering a code of practice for the Victorian disability workforce which is consistent with the NDIS code of conduct.
     
  5. Receiving, investigating, and carrying out appropriate disciplinary responses to complaints involving practice which the legislation would define in general terms as a departure from acceptable practice (e.g. unprofessional conduct and professional misconduct).
     
  6. Addressing concerns relating to workers with impairments such as serious ill-health or alcohol or drug abuse and dependence, exploring opportunities to implement a work framework with appropriate conditions, and assisting a worker’s return to practice where to do so will not present any risks to people with disability or the public.
     
  7. Developing the workforce through authoritative advice about what constitutes good practice, guidance about practice issues, support for workers to meet entry level standards and any requirements to maintain registration or to increase their qualifications. The regulator’s role should explicitly include the responsibility to take actions to lift the profile and capability of the workforce and increase public confidence in its work.
     
  8. Providing comprehensive data about the workforce employed in all disability services to address the existing dearth of accurate and up-to-date information.
     
  9. Workforce Training

The success of the new registration and accreditation system will depend upon the disability workforce being thoroughly conversant with new requirements and able to easily access appropriate training and professional development activities and courses. This would be particularly important in the non-government sector because of the existing lack of consistency regarding qualifications.

The demand for training will also accelerate over the next few years because of the expansion of the workforce bringing in large numbers of new entrants due to the implementation of the NDIS.

The Victorian Government must provide additional Budget funding to meet the training and professional development needs of the disability workforce to prepare for and then implement the introduction of the registration and accreditation system.

It is essential that all training and professional development programs have the highest level of quality assurance so that participants, the disability community and the public as a whole have confidence that that they will equip the workforce with the capabilities and understandings necessary for their roles. Because of the various scandals and variable quality of courses and training delivered by the private VET sector the training should be carried out by TAFE, as the public VET provider. To ensure that there is consistent quality standards across the sector training as part of the new registration requirements should not be carried out in-house by disability centres.

The training programs should include courses to ensure that workers in disability:

  • Understand the new registration and accreditation system involving their professional obligations and practice standards;
  • Are trained to better recognise, prevent and report abuse;
  • Enter the workforce with the required skills and capabilities to carry out their roles;
  • Are able to access additional training to gain specific advanced practice qualifications;
  • Are able to access higher level qualifications to expand their employment opportunities within the disability sector.

Click here to read the Victorian Government's consultation paper.