Development of a Service – Real Living Options Association Inc.

Real Living Options Association Inc. was established in 1996 after a long struggle by a group of parents who wished their family member to have individual support to live in a home of their own(an ordinary life) in the community in a home of their choosing and to have support to achieve this. 

During the 1990’s many parents across the State were lobbying the Queensland government to provide better services to people with a disability which included funding for individual support. This also included funding to small community based Services which were an alternative to the large charitable organisations across the State. In this era very few support services for adults with a disability existed which were not congregated and segregated. Small community based Service were being encouraged to be established, many of these by parents.

In the mid 1990’s a project “The National Parent Initiative Project” was funded by the Commonwealth Government. A one parent in Cairns and a staff member of the Community Resource Unit from Brisbane worked together to seize the opportunity to access some of these funds to bring together parents in this Region. A two day workshop was designed to provide parents with up to date information regarding some options of service provision which had been established by parents in other parts of the State. The parent presenters at this workshop provided information which was inspiring and encouraging to other parents. Parents heard how the different types of services functioned and how these services had made a big difference in the lives of people with a disability. These services responded to the needs of the people to whom they provided a service and families could have a say in support arrangements of their son/daughter.

One of the goals of this workshop was to encourage parents to work together to bring about change. An outcome of this workshop was that a parent group was set up. The group was called the Cairns Regional Family Network. The Cairns Regional Family Network met regularly to encourage and support each other and share information, as well as to lobby government for better funding for people with a disability in this Region. At this time no support was available to adults unless they wished to attend the facilities of a very large state-wide organisation which provided residential care and workshop facilities.

A couple of members of this group were responsible for a submission to the Department of Families. This submission was for funding to set up a service which would provide support according to the individual needs of people to whom it provided services. This could also include assisting the family as well as their son/daughter in some circumstances.

After much hard work and lobbying of politicians including the then Treasurer who was our local member, after 3 years and 2 more submissions and many changes to those submissions, the Queensland Government Department of Families approved funding. The most disappointing aspect of this funding was that it was 1/3rd of the amount which had been applied for. The final submission was to support 5 people.

As the Cairns Regional Family Network was not an incorporated body, the Cairns Regional Family Network requested Leisure Connections Association Incorporated to be the sponsoring organisation for applying for funding, overseeing the setting up of the Service and reporting expenditure in relation to the funding. Leisure Connections also agreed to share their office space and equipment which was then located in Sheridan St.  

The Cairns Regional Family Network appointed 3 members to administer the funding. This small group became the Management Committee of the organisation which was called Real Living Options. The name was chosen because the expectation was that people would have opportunities to have lives which are similar to others in the community.  Much work went into the establishment of the Service, employment of staff and supporting the first service users. The first person was assisted from April 1996.

Real Living Options is a unique Service which involves both the family and the person in the decisions about their life. The people who use the Service are encouraged to be involved in decisions about all aspects of their lives and are assisted in their homes and in community activities.  The Service works towards maintaining people with a disability in their own home within the community with a lifestyle of their choosing which reflects the conditions of everyday life valued by the community. Their home may be a home of their own or the family home. 

The Service grew quickly over the next couple of years when some families who had previously been provided a service from a service provider who closed their disability section, chose to transfer to Real Living Options. Over the years the Service has continued to grow. The philosophy of the service is that it will remain a small service in order that the people who use the Service are known personally.

After operating for 6 years under the auspice of Leisure Connections Association Incorporated, a decision was taken by the Management Committee to investigate the benefits of becoming incorporated.

At the Annual General Meeting of Leisure Connections Association Inc. in 2002 a decision was taken  by the members that  Real Living Options investigate the necessary steps to become incorporated.  The President completed the work, a Constitution was developed and a General Meeting held in 2003 to adopt the Constitution. On incorporation, Real Living Options changed its name to Real Living Options Association Inc. The first Annual General Meeting was held in 2004.

Membership of the Management Committee has increased over the years. This has brought an increase of experience and skills within the Management Committee. Some members of the Management Committee have continued to serve for a number of years which gives a sense of history and continuity to the organisation.

The Service was first audited under the Disability Sector Quality System and received certification in March 2008. It continues to be audited annually to maintain certification.  

The staff has increased as the number of Service Users has grown. Currently office staff includes  Service Manager, 2 part time Support Coordinators and a part time Administrative Assistant/ Bookkeeper was well as approximately 40 Lifestyle Assistants who work in a direct support role.

The Service started its life in Sheridan St sharing with Leisure Connections Association Inc.  It was quickly realised that there was a need for larger office space. A move was made to Martyn Street and at the end of this lease another move was made to Draper St for 6 years.  The offices of the Service are currently located in Aumuller St. Bungalow.  Real Living Options Association Inc. and Leisure Connections Association Incorporated continue to share the office building and office equipment and the financial benefits of sharing.  There are also other benefits of sharing with a Service which has a similar philosophy of providing individual support to the people they assist. 

Real Living options Association Inc. has met all the challenges involved in providing support service since 1996 and will continue into the future and respond to the challenge of providing services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme/Disability Care when the Scheme comes into effect.