Parents know their kids best by Liz Wall Smith

Liz Wall Smith describes herself as a social worker and a mother of three young adult sons, Sam, Joe and Lachlan.

- Liz Wall Smith

In addition, she is also a very busy and active advocate. As well as caring for her sons, she is a Living Life My Way Ambassador, a member of the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council, and currently sits on the NSW Carers Advisory Council.

Liz believes that many of the barriers faced by people with disability are founded on inadequate information. 

“Being aware of your rights and those of the person you care for can help with fair access to things that most people take for granted,” says Liz. 

Her past advocacy work has given her the opportunity to share her story and help others, as well as raise community awareness, and Liz says that hearing stories about what has worked for others is important to encourage people in their own journeys. 

Each of Liz’s sons require ongoing support. While Lachlan and Sam are able to look forward to a bright future in the right setting, Liz continues to support Joe who has found negotiating his path to be difficult.

Part of what Liz has learned from her time with Joe is that caring for someone living with a mental illness can be complex, requiring a significant commitment and understanding. She says that Autism can be difficult enough, but when combined with depression the impacts can be greater still, not least because “the caring role is often carried out in isolation. Unfortunately a large part of this isolation is caused by misperceptions, fear and stigmatising beliefs [about] mental illness.” 

Certainly, Liz says, part of the ongoing challenge are the hurdles to be faced within the current disability system, which has been found to be ‘underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient, and gives people with disability little choice.’ 

“Carers need recognition and support and to be involved in the planning and delivery of services that affect them.”

Liz and her family have been part of the Service Our Way (SOW) program aimed at ensuring flexibility, choice and cultural responsiveness to meet the needs of Aboriginal people with disability, their carers and families. Self-managed programs give control to people with disability and their family – including deciding what activities are important and relevant to their interests and needs, and choosing the people who they work with. 

Not only does this control have benefits through creating a more appropriate and tailored program, it can also help grow confidence and advocacy skills. Elizabeth Ervine, FACS Senior Project Officer, Aboriginal Services, said that during Liz’s time with SOW, “I have seen Liz grow in confidence and assertiveness, becoming a champion for people with a disability,” and that the SOW team has learnt a lot from Liz and her experience as a carer. 

“Parents know their kids best and care the most,” says Liz. “Being an advocate for our child often means learning new terms, knowing your rights, and not giving up on making sure your child gets the help/support he or she needs.”

In terms of advice for others, Liz suggests that “Being calm and determined is the best approach to advocacy. Focus on the things you can influence and invest in things that give you meaning and purpose. And, importantly, stay socially connected and find ways to enrich your life.” 

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Carers NSW acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land, Elders past and present and all Aboriginal people.