Children missing out on disability services
Jennifer Andersen with her five-year-old son William, who missed out on early intervention services. Photo: Joe Armao
MORE than 1000 Victorian preschool children have been on waiting lists for early intervention services such as speech and occupational therapy for longer than three months, with some missing out altogether before they start school.
Early childhood intervention services, funded by the Victorian Education Department, are regarded as critical for children with disabilities and developmental delays to get the best possible start in life.
However, in recent years demand has increased for places due to population increases and advances in medical interventions and diagnoses. As of February 1, 1021 children had been waiting more than three months for a place, according to an Education Department spokesman.
In November last year, the state government committed $3.7 million a year for an extra 500 places to address demand across the state. ''These additional 500 places will be allocated in March,'' the spokesman said.
The Victorian chapter of Early Childhood Intervention Australia said the extra places would reduce the waiting list significantly but would not eliminate it.
''Hundreds of Victorian families in many communities will continue to wait for support, often for extended periods,'' the group said in its budget submission.
Executive officer Lauren Matthews said another 500 places would be really welcome.
She said the budget submission also recommended priority be given to waiting list support, to ensure families had a point of contact for advice and to refer them to services while they were waiting for a fully funded place.
''It is unfair to expect families to languish on waiting lists at such a challenging time and at such a crucial phase of their child's development,'' the submission says. ''Waiting list supports have the potential to remove much of the isolation that families experience and improve community connection.''
When Jennifer Andersen's son William-Lee was four she put him on a waiting list foran early intervention place at Scope disability services in Gippsland. However despite being diagnosed with a global developmental delay William-Lee missed out on a place before he started school.
Ms Andersen said William-Lee's teachers at South Gippsland Specialist School believed early intervention services, such as a speech pathologist, would have helped her son.
''I think his speech and social interaction would be a lot more advanced,'' she said. ''You try yourself at home, but you are flying blind.''
Scope chief Jennifer Fitzgerald said Scope was funded to provide 50 early childhood intervention services places in Gippsland, with the waiting list managed by the department.
Since 2004 Scope has delivered the START program, also funded by the department, which is an interim service for families waiting for a place. Ms Fitzgerald said 150 children were in the START program in 2012. Of these, 23 were in the year before being eligible for school. ''Many of these children may not have received full early childhood intervention services before commencing school.''