From foster care and group home to living independently: Uli’s story

A photo of Uli Cartwright, founder of Life is a Battlefield.
Living with multiple chronic health conditions since he was born, Uli has experienced life within foster care and group homes. Being both an NDIS participant and also working for disability services, Uli has gained a unique insight into the disability sector. Now, he is using his knowledge to improve the mental health and disability sectors, as well as improving the quality of life for NDIS participants.
Uli at the beach.

The role of a Support Coordinator in living independently

“When I was in my late teens, my relationship with my foster mother broke down and I began living in a group home,” Uli shares.

Living within a group home model, Uli says, is like “being homed in an old-style institution with restricted access to decision making and other freedoms”.

In addition, being in constant contact with people within your home who can hold opposing viewpoints is challenging, he says. “It can contradict your own beliefs and wishes with minimal opportunity to refute decisions. It is as though your life is being planned for you and you are a passenger.”

Although Uli has been lucky enough to form positive relationships with some of the individuals he met within this model, he says “this type of accommodation can be very limiting in the natural development of myself as a person”.

Currently, Uli lives in a private rental that he sourced in 2021 with assistance from support workers. It wasn’t an easy road, though. A series of issues around eligibility meant he lost his SDA funding. “I had no choice but to source alternative accommodation. The only practical way I could achieve this was to seek a private rental in the community.”

Uli had contacts within the sector who helped him find a home and a guarantor. He reflects, “Without this support, I do not know where I would be living now.”

In spite of these challenges, Uli has gone from strength to strength. “I have more autonomy. I no longer feel I need to fit my lifestyle into a framework determined by others. I have also seen a substantial increase in my overall capacity, being forced to take more responsibility for my own decisions and being presented with the freedom to explore my interests and grow as a person. I am not as afraid of failure after being able to grow in my own space,” he says.

From group home to independent living

For Uli, having a quality Support Coordinator has meant a better understanding of his NDIS package and supports. “With help from my Support Coordinator, I can make informed decisions without overruling my will. She assists me in utilising my plan well and understanding the services and opportunities my funding offers.

“She assists me in pursuing my goals in the wider sector in relation to my welfare and information rights linked to my overall quality of life. If an element of my supports or funding needs to be changed, I speak with my Support Coordinator for advice and support in making these amendments wherever possible,” Uli adds.

A good Support Coordinator, Uli says, doesn’t just ‘tick the boxes’. A good Support Coordinator:

  • Has a strong grasp of who the participant is so they can help make informed decisions regarding their plan
  • Continually advocates for the participant and ensures they are receiving the best possible supports available for that individual and their goals
  • Advises and supports the participant to make changes to a plan where required to ensure their needs are being met to the standard required for the person
  • Excels at critical thinking, to be able to fully understand requests and the participant’s perspective when making decisions.

Navigating the disability sector: three tips

Uli has three pieces of advice for people living with disability to navigate the disability sector:

Know your rights

Advocate for yourself if you feel you are not being supported adequately. A phone call to an advocacy organisation may be a positive first step in seeking information.

Build a support network

Not every professional is a great fit for you. Support should be appropriately matched to each individual. If you do not believe individuals working with you have your best interests, continue seeking improvement until you are satisfied your service provider is the right one for you. Having the right people on your team can really support you to thrive and this is in your control.

Work with people with whom you get along

In many cases, you will be spending a significant amount of time with the people and services who support you, often having them within your home and involved in many areas of your life. For this reason, it is important that you feel comfortable with them.

My vision for the NDIS

  • To ensure that participants are appropriately supported and have relevant information explained to them so they can make informed decisions and understand the implications of their answers when dealing with the NDIS.
  • For NDIS services to actively participate in the capacity building of individuals, and to receive regular NDIS funded training which combats complacency.
  • For more ‘hands on’ training for studying professionals in a multitude of roles while completing their qualifications to work within the sector. Many people find themselves working with complex individuals who have been exposed to highly traumatic circumstances early on in their careers.

While it is important for professionals working within the sector to have gained knowledge from traditional classroom type study, this cannot prepare professionals to manage trying and confronting circumstances in the lives of their participants effectively. I believe more importance should be given to the placement element of study to include a range of roles and client cohorts to ensure the most effective workers possible are produced through educational training.

About the author: Uli Cartwright

Uli is Director and Founder of Life is a Battlefield. Born into a slew of chronic health conditions, Uli was given a zero-percent chance of making it past his second birthday. Now as a young man, Uli has found independence and a way to thrive whilst still being supported through his mental health challenges, chronic illness, and disability. Drawing on his lifetime of experience, Uli is on a mission to bring a voice to real stories of survival. He now works as a disability advocate, giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.