Plumtree, a not-for-profit organisation in Sydney supporting children with a disability from birth to 8 years and their families, has received government funding to expand their innovative Now and Next program that promotes family leadership in disability.

Its vision, says Plumtree CEO Sylvana Mahmic, is to “build a social movement that inspires a new generation of parents of young children with disabilities to lead their family’s progress.”

Developed in-house in collaboration with New Zealand researcher Dr Annick Janson, the evidence-informed program comprises weekly group sessions over eight weeks. Parents and carers learn to develop a vision for their child, plan and set goals and actions and care for themselves. The program is beneficial for families who will be eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as well as those who will be a part of the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach.

Using an iPad, participants create an eBook containing information about their child and family, photos, audio and video—a novel and engaging sharable document that replaces written reports.

The inspiring group sessions enable parents to share their stories, learn from each other and build networks of support.

Commencing at Plumtree in 2016, the program has attracted huge interest and increasing attendance from families. Feedback has been positive: “The program has been invaluable,” says Juliette. “I have renewed energy in helping Leo, and I have gained skills to help him achieve his goals. To see everyone’s journey has been so rewarding; we as a group have achieved and learnt so much from each other.”

Promoting family leadership

Now and Next is Australia’s first peer network for families of young children with delays or disabilities. Graduates of the program join the Now and Next Alumni, where families continue supporting each other to aim high and see new opportunities for their child, now and in the future.

As of May 2017, the program has produced 190 alumni members and 10 paid peer facilitators who are graduates of the program.

“Peer networks are a vital way for families to connect with one another and build leadership and have the potential to transform the disability service system in this new era of the NDIS” says CEO Sylvana Mahmic.

NSW Government funding for expansion

The innovative Now and Next program has attracted government funding to expand the program to increase alumni members to 350 and peer facilitators to 20 by June 2018.

Minister for Disability Services, Ray Williams, said the NSW Government, in partnership with the NDIA, was pleased to support initiatives that reflect the goals of the NDIS.

“Now and Next is a great program that will equip parents with skills to support their child with setting goals and allow them to learn from other parents. It also gives parents and children an opportunity to connect and build a community to share their journey with, which is so important,” Mr Williams.

“This funding will enable Plumtree to take the Now and Next program to other parts of NSW and expand the alumni peer network for families of young children with a developmental delay or disability” says CEO Sylvana Mahmic.

It has also attracted major interest from local and overseas disability organisations following presentations at conferences.

For more information on Now and Next, please contact Stacey Touma on 0433628828 or read more online.

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