Specialised centres helping children with disabilities will now stay open until 2020, in a small win for Brisbane parents who have been campaigning against the phasing out of the Early Childhood Development Program.
Families, however, say the fight to retain local centres in the long term remains.
What is the Early Childhood Development Program (ECDP)
The ECDP runs centres for children from birth to five years with physical and intellectual disabilities including autism. Specially trained educators work with families to prepare children for school.
Under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), children with disabilities will still have access to visiting therapists but will go to mainstream kindergartens.
A parent and a specialist’s perspective
“I cannot offer what an education-based program can,” says speech pathologist Bronwyn Sutton, who offers the perspective of both a parent and a specialist.
“These centres have the look, feel and smell of school,” Bronwyn says. “As a therapist I cannot provide the opportunity for social interaction with peers. You just can’t do this is an office in the one-on-one situation that is being proposed.”
The dilemma with mainstream childcare centres
Families claim mainstream childcare centres will not have the time, resources or skill to help and develop children with special needs and prep classes will suffer.
“These poor teachers are going to have no hope in hell of supporting these kids or controlling them in the classroom,” says parent, Sharon Brown.
Procedures like waiting in line, sharing with a classmate, putting a bag on a hook are all instructions parents claim need to be delivered correctly with a whole class potentially disrupted if a child’s triggers or particular cues are not diagnosed before school.
Nearly 30,000 signatures called for Education Minister, Kate Jones to keep the specialised centres and in parliament in April, she agreed to postpone the closure of the program.
“I understand that parents are concerned because they have received very little information from the Federal Government about what services will be available,” the Minister says. “In 2020 we will be in a much stronger position to reassess the need for ECDP services into the future.”
Not a disability issue, but an education issue
ECDP supporters however say the Minister is still missing the point that help for children with disabilities needs to be the responsibility of the Education Department.
“This is not a disability issue, this is an education issue that will affect every child at every Queensland School if the program isn’t ensured for the long term,” said Opposition Leader, Lawrence Springborg.
Taryna Smith who raised the issue, fears many children will never reach their full potential if their particular needs are not addressed at an early age.
“Early intervention is important and education is the foundation of opportunity,” said Shadow Education Minister, Tarnya Smith.
Jacqueline Smart comes to Brisbane from a television news background and past role as Media Officer based at the Australian High Commission in PNG.
She runs writing and media workshops throughout Brisbane and Logan libraries.