The world is full of opportunities if you know where to look. There are always problems that need solutions. For Fernando Berghella and Matthew Aubry, founders of Personalised Support Systems, they’ve taken the old model of disability support and given it a spin to better support young men with disabilities.
Women dominate the disability support space. Not surprisingly, women are predominantly seen as nurturers. Women make up 70% of the workforce in the disability care space, with over 46% over 45 years old. It’s an ideal role because of the part time and casual nature of the work, not to mention the opportunity to care for those who need support and assistance to access the community.
Yet, there’s a huge gap in space for young men to provide disability support for other young men. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022 report, People With A Disability, almost 35% of people with a disability in Australia are under 30 years old. Fernando and Matt saw this as an opportunity to not only give back to the community, but also to create new career opportunities for young people and have more peer appropriate support workers for young men who use Personalised Support Systems.
Personalised Supports Systems provide a range of supports, including individualised support, group programs, support coordination and therapies. Fernando started the service after spending many years working in exercise physiology, wanting to bring a more person-centric approach to care. Matthew, having spent many years in sales, transitioned into disability support after seeing how much joy his mother got from working in disability care. With a love for community and giving back, they teamed up.
During COVID, many young people lost their hospitality and retail roles, gravitating to the community service sector. Fernando and Matthew knew they could not only provide meaningful career pathways, but also meet a growing need in the sector to match younger support workers with younger participants, especially for young men.
“For many young men with disabilities, they want to do things other young men their age are doing - go to the pub, see live music, go to the footy, and play video games. While women are incredible support workers, they don’t have a lot in common with males under 30,” Fernando said. “Our participants want and need support from their peers, people they can relate to.”
Working in the community is not something new to Fernando and Matthew. They both have a huge heart for helping others. Fernando has been volunteering since he was in his early teens, and Matthew has been working in the disability support space for several years as a support worker.
The founders of Personalised Support Systems are putting their money where their mouth is, bringing younger disability support workers into the fold to meet the needs of their younger clients.
Fernando said there is a shortage in the market for young male support workers. “We want to change the sector and provide more opportunities, not just for people’s care paths, but also to match the right support workers based on the age and interests of the people they support,” he said. “It provides more meaningful connections and better outcomes for our younger participants. We need all types of people working in the disability support space, because participants are like everyone else with dreams and goals for how they live their life. Having a peer supporting them means they feel understood and heard.”
Matthew said young men with disabilities need role models they can relate to. “That is what we are working to achieve. So many men our age, in their 20s and 30s, feel disconnected, and this is even more profound if you are a young man in these age groups with a disability,” he said.
“I remember when I started working in disability support, I had more work than I could manage, because of my age and gender. There are not many young men working in the disability sector. One family begged me to do more hours, because their son had never had a male support worker as young as me before.
“Young males, especially with disabilities, are isolated, and not many have strong relationships. So a support worker is so essential to them, and a good one can really change their lives.
In May, they’ll open their unique Sunbury Hub Space, in Victoria, to better cater to participants' diverse interests, including a fully equipped music room, creative studio for art, crafts and pottery, classrooms for activities such as (drama, education, study, IT, dance & more), sensory room for meditation and breathwork, therapy rooms including Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology, a fully equipped and adaptable kitchen space for cooking programs and life skills, a hang out/relaxation area, arcade machines and games. Fernando and Matthew have invested $600k to bring this space to life.
Matthew said, “Our long-term goal is to be a destination company that provides great outcomes and support for our participants, but also a place allied health professionals want to work with and where people from across the disability sector want to work.”