2021 Annual Report
The last 12 months have not disappointed. We set our goals, plotted our course and accomplished many wonderful and exciting projects for the communities and families we have the privilege of supporting.
Hours of support delivered
Acknowledgement of country
Our vision & mission
A message from our CEO & president
Our committee & leadership team
Acknowledgement of Country
Early Links acknowledges, respects and thanks the Wonaruah nation and all other nations as caretakers of the land and sea on which we live and work. We pay our respects to all elders, past, present and emerging and to leaders from all countries.
Support our community to become inclusive, through collaboration, education and service delivery excellence.
A message from our CEO
Chief Executive Officer
This year we set the scene with a Strategic Planning Day that would set our path for the next three years. Together with our leadership team and Committee, we explored our mission and position within our community and started the process of reimagining where we could take this wonderful organisation in the future. This day was perhaps, personally, the highlight of my year. A room full of courageous visionaries, willing to not only dream about what might be possible but also plot the course in achievable steps, was truly inspiring.
It would be remiss of me not to mention an obvious hiccup to our plans during the past twelve months. COVID once again came knocking on our global communities’ collective doors and disrupted the way that our supports were delivered. The impact on our operations was minimal given that our teams have prepared well, supported the learning and adaptivity needed for both colleagues and families in the art of Telehealth and genuinely went above and beyond to ensure that we were able to remain operational during this time. It is an absolute credit to this exceptional team that they have the versatility and mindset to adapt to each and every one of these challenges. Our IT and Property teams once again proved crucial in supporting our technology and knowledge requirements during this time. Previous investments put us in good stead to adapt quickly and seamlessly as staff needed to transition to and from office locations with minimal warning. We are indebted to our team’s ability to move with both stealth and a quiet calm that sees the job getting done without angst.
Early Links growth has continued to track in a now very familiar pattern.
Growth expectations are consistently met, resulting in our ability to better support the need for such services in the communities we represent. As an organisation, we have remained committed to looking within for opportunities. Our team has diversified, bringing in a new complement of specialists to work with our traditional staffing classifications. This has allowed us to provide more individualised services to our families as well as creating internal support structures to serve the team. As a growing team, we have actively sought out staff interested in furthering their careers in leadership roles and carefully nurtured this interest and provided pathways in our team planning. Our pathway program has taken root at every level of our organisation, providing the opportunity for long term relationships with our staff.
Wrapping supports around clients and families is a privilege that we take very seriously. We feel honoured to be invited into the lives and homes of those we support. Walking alongside our families, we too experience the joy when things go well, the heartbreak when they don’t. We position ourselves as advocates and fiercely defend when families’ stories are not heard, or injustice occurs. We fight for an inclusive community that provides the opportunity to dream. It is not through a want for power or reward that we do this work. It is for the passion that we each feel for inclusion, the core of our beliefs.
Our staff continue to be our most valuable resource and inspiration in our planning.
With absolute gratitude, I thank our Committee, our leadership team, our staff team, and, of course, the families that we support for working so courageously during a year that has battered us with challenges. We have emerged with a continued fire in our hearts and the resources to move confidently into the future.
A message from our President
I want to extend my gratitude to all the staff, management team and management committee members, for their contribution towards all that Early Links has been able to achieve in the last 12 months. The demand for services under the NDIS in our area has continued to grow, and Early Links has endeavoured to do our very best to provide a high-quality service to as many people as we can. Thus, enabling people to live their best lives.
Earlier in the year, our team came together, along with our management committee and clients, to collaborate on a shared vision and plan for our future. Our strategic plan for the next three years highlights our continued commitment to our client supports, our people and our community. Our people matter; we value them and the incredible role they play in the lives of others every day.
Our clients matter; we value them, see all they can do and all they wish to do.
Our community matters; we value all it has to offer and all we can offer it. And our future matters, thoughtful plans for our future ensure our longevity, ensures we continue to provide such a vital service sustainably.
These last 12 months have continued to place unprecedented pressure and challenges on our team and clients. However, it never ceases to amaze me how our staff and management rally together to find solutions and how resilient our clients are. It is such a rewarding organisation to be a part of, and everyone should be very proud of the role they play within Early Links.
Our Committee brings together industry, business and community leaders who generously donate their time and passion to provide the governance needed to lead our organisation into a strong future. Meeting monthly, we value their willingness to share their wisdom for the betterment of our communities.
Our Leadership Team
After a period of rapid growth and change across the organisation, we have settled into a leadership structure that allows us to lean into new challenges confidently. Our Leadership Team has a mandate for excellence in all aspects of our offerings and is committed to bringing out the very best in our teams.
Chief Executive Officer
As CEO, Sue reports to the committee and is responsible for overseeing the organisations functions and activities. She also plans to ensure that Early Links’ mission is brought to life.
Chief Operating Officer
Lesley sees it as her privilege to support our amazing team to do the incredible work they do and to provide quality supports based on evidence-based best practice and continually improve and adapt to better meet our participants’ needs.
Jennifer is responsible for planning, implementing, managing, and running the organisation’s finance activities to maintain the efficiency of organisational functions and processes. She supports the Executive and Management Committee and supervises the finance team, NDIS claims team, plan management team, property and purchasing staff.
Rob supports the current and future needs of the organisation by bringing systems and processes up to specification through a technology focus.
Marketing & Communication Manager
Gavin oversees initiatives to champion Early Links, our people and our clients and engage our community. Securing funding through grants, sponsorship, and donations are also key focuses that support the organisation’s ability to achieve excellence in service delivery.
Capacity Building Manager
Alicia oversees the programs within Early Links that are based around supporting and building inclusive environments in the community. This includes our Early Childhood Teachers, Creative Arts and Music Therapy Programs, The Behaviour Support Team, and the new Teen Program.
Hours of Support Delivered
Hours of Therapy Services
Hours of Plan Management
Hours of Support Work
Hours of Support Cooordination
Hours of Supervision
In your words
“We love the Big Yellow Bus because Jayden can interact with other kids through physical play! It would be great to see the bus renovated because it provides so much joy and fun to the young kids. Keeping it fresh will encourage more people to come along as well.” Grace, Jayden’s Mum.
Early Links Playgroup
Early Links Playgroup is a free, supported, and inclusive playgroup, held in Maitland on Thursdays. All children aged 6 or younger are welcome, with support provided for those with additional needs.
Playgroup offers a great mix of indoor and outdoor play, including pretend play, sensory experiences, art and craft, and messy play. We also have the Big Yellow Bus (brought to you by Whitehaven Coal), which is a converted school bus, complete with slides and a flying fox!
MyTime is for parents and carers of children with a disability, developmental delay or chronic medical condition. It’s a place for them to unwind and talk about their experiences. It’s a world away from appointments and therapy. And while parents and carers attend the group led by a trained facilitator, a play helper will engage their child.
At MyTime, parents can find others who really understand what it’s like to have a child with a disability, as well as skilled guidance from facilitators to help them access information and services in their area.
Drumbeat is a social and emotional development program that uses music and games to explore relationships and self-awareness. It provides capacity building in the areas of emotional regulation, social engagement, building resilience, confidence and self-esteem.
Drumbeat is an evidence-based practice.
Drama group is a social and emotional program to develop self-esteem and self-awareness through dramatic play and story-telling. It will provide capacity building in building relationships, social problem solving, developing confidence, building resilience and developing communication skills.
This group will help you develop social communication skills by learning the hidden rules of being social including expected behaviour and unexpected behaviour, social smarts, using our eyes, ears and brain to think about and interact with others.
The Fun Factory
The kids have taken over the factory and they’re making fun!
At fun factory, children develop social skills, form friendships and have lots of fun! They choose what fun they make in the fun factory from activities such as cooking, art & craft, games and community outings. This is a relaxed, safe space with support to build bonds, interact and access the community.
Our Yoga classes are a great way for children to have fun and develop skills for self-regulation, social interaction, language, teamwork, grounding, self-confidence, strength and breathing.
At Dance Group, children develop gross motor skills, receptive language, sequencing, working memory and social skills.
Dance group helps to build confidence in a fun and supportive environment. Children also have the opportunity to showcase their dance skills for their family at our end of term performance.
Let’s Get Cooking
Participants develop basic meal preparation and language skills as well as fine and gross motor skills while having fun with other budding chefs. This group also covers crucial life skills such as planning, sequencing, reading, following a recipe, social skills and kitchen safety awareness.
Children attend sports group for soccer, t-ball, basketball and much more. The sports group team take them through warm up, skill sessions, games and lots of fun.
Stories, lessons and play activities!
Building on fundamental social competencies and improving their social interactions, this program helps teach social problem solving while building on core social concepts and social thinking vocabulary.
The Telehealth project to install ‘Telehealth Hubs’ in each of Early Links’ offices progresses with staff consulted, trials completed, and fine-tuning of the selected options ongoing. A mobile option has been chosen, which allows flexible use of existing resources and broadens the types of telehealth sessions that can be completed. Plans for information sessions for interested families are developing. Staff have been increasing their telehealth skills, with internal training also being rolled out and refined.
New Teen Program
Over the past year, we have been developing a program of support for teenagers. We knew that traditional therapy approaches were not engaging for teenagers. Teens want to be able to socialise with peers and be an active part of their community. We started by listening to the voices of teens and have developed a brand-new program. The program aims to:
- Listen to what is happening for teens now and what they want to achieve
- Involve teens in the planning of their own supports
- Support them to accomplish these goals in a cool way (it has to be cool!)
We look forward to launching this program in the near future.
Disability and Inclusion Program
We currently support over twenty preschools in the Maitland, Dungog and Port Stephens local government areas. This involves a wide range of supports, including:
- Upskilling in inclusive practices
- Understanding the NDIS and how to make funding applications
- Identifying children with developmental delay
- Understanding the disability and inclusion program guidelines and providing updated information
- Providing valuable resources around positive behaviour support, COVID 19, transition to school, and autism spectrum disorder
- Start Strong free preschool program
- Links to ongoing and relevant professional development and training as identified by individual preschools
We are also developing a wellbeing resource for preschool directors to use with staff, children and families.
Our intake team triages all new referrals (those with an NDIS plan and those seeking to enter the NDIS system). They also contact each person who is referred to confirm their supports and needs, provide support where required and allocate them to the correct waitlist.
Community and Funding Partners
We thank our funding partner, the NSW Department of Education, for their continued support. We also thank the generous funding bodies and sponsors of some of our special projects. This year we were supported by: Glencore, Primary Health Network (PHN), Carers Australia NSW, Playgroup NSW, Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal (FRRR), Muswellbrook Shire Council, Mazda Foundation, Women NSW (NSW State Government), Department of Business (Australian Government), Community Grants Hub (Australian Government), Department of Social Services (Australian Government) and Whitehaven Coal.
Commonwealth Child Safe Framework Statement of Compliance
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted the need for organisations to adopt child safe practices including appropriate screening of staff, mandatory reporting and adoption of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. In addition to ensuring child safety within Commonwealth entities, the Australian Government will work together with its funded organisations to do all it can to ensure the safety of children that staff may come in contact with in the context of their work and activities.
Early Links Team Members
Management & Administration
Allied Health Assistants
Early Intervention Specialist Teachers
Psychologists & Prov. Psychologists
Creative Art/Music Therapists
Behaviour Support Practitioners
With very heavy hearts, we learned in May this year that our beautiful colleague and friend, Melissa Bridges, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. ‘Family’ was at the heart of all Melissa did. Her love, her enjoyment and pride in her own family was evident to all who knew her.
Melissa knew what a privilege it was to be welcomed into the families of those she supported in her time at Early Links. Her experience, knowledge and passion for supporting children and families were greatly appreciated by so many. Over her career in Early Childhood Education, she touched many young lives that are all the richer for having been nurtured, loved and valued by Melissa.
‘Family’ was at the heart of all Melissa did. Her love, her enjoyment and pride in her own family was evident to all who knew her.
Her colleagues throughout her career, especially here at Early Links, have also benefitted from sharing part of their journey with Melissa. Her role in supporting, encouraging and guiding young staff has been pivotal in their professional development. As a team leader, Melissa mentored her colleagues, nurturing best practice and providing support and direction.
But more than all her professional expertise and experience she brought to our Early Links community, it is our friend that we will dearly miss. Melissa’s caring nature, her ready and beautiful smile, her elegance, her sense of humour and laugh; the way she was able to make any child feel at ease by listening and engaging with them and giving them the gift of her time; her genuine concern for her workmates.
This photo was taken on a recent staff training day and is how many of her colleagues will remember Melissa. The joyous yellow of the sunflowers and, quite coincidentally, of Melissa’s jacket is symbolic of the person Melissa was. Each one of us that knew her has a touch of that yellow sunshine in our lives, her enduring legacy. How hard it is to have that sunshine so suddenly taken away.
Melissa’s greatest delight was in her beloved family. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them and the many friends who so keenly feel her loss.
Late last year, our NDIS claims team leader, Chloe, and IT Manager, Rob, secured a 12-month scholarship to participate in The Digital Champions Club (DCC). This program has built on Early Links’ capacity to improve processes and efficiency of the service through the focused use of digital technology.
Through the scholarship, Chloe and Rob have undertaken several projects to enhance our systems, processes and service delivery by harnessing and implementing new technology.
With a focus on quality and improvement, we reviewed our information technology systems and applications. As a result, we have identified opportunities for better integration of processes to enhance our participants’ experience and provide staff with more streamlined support in carrying out their roles.
NDIS Quality Audit
As a registered provider with the NDIS, Early Links participates in regular quality audits against the NDIS Practice Standards. In March 2021, BSI Group conducted Early Links’ Mid-Term Audit, interviewing participants and staff and checking our systems, documentation, and processes against the standards. We want to thank all our participants and their families who took part and agreed to speak with the auditors.
There is demonstrated commitment to providing quality services to the clients and understanding of NDIS Rules
We are proud to say that the auditors’ findings stated that Early Links “continues to maintain established and well-maintained documented information” and that “there is demonstrated commitment to providing quality services to the clients and understanding of NDIS Rules”. While we are delighted to have demonstrated compliance with the NDIS Practice Standards, our greatest source of joy from the audit process was the feedback provided to the auditors from our participants and their families. They spoke in very favourable terms of the impact that their Early Links support team had made in the quality of their lives.