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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1667

Senator McLUCAS (Queensland) (17:49): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This audit report on early intervention services for children with disability was conducted for two larger programs and some smaller programs, under the Early Intervention Services for Children with Disability program, that are conducted by the now Department of Social Services, the former FaHCSIA, but were implemented under the Labor government. The first one is the Helping Children with Autism program, providing early intervention services for children who are diagnosed with autism. The second program, which began in 2011, called Better Start for Children with Disability, provides services for children who are diagnosed with a range of disabilities, mainly cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, hearing impairment and sight impairment and children who are deaf and blind, along with a large number of diagnoses of children with various syndromes. The package of supports provides a total of $12,000 over two years with a maximum of $6,000 in a year, with an extra amount of money for people living in outer regional, remote and very remote areas.

The report concludes, as the Audit Office often does, that it is effective in some areas but can improve. Of course it can improve, but it has been very good. They say there are difficulties in rural and remote areas, and I agree. When I was the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers we introduced a program to support service delivery in those areas and we also introduced the Remote Hearing and Vision Services for Children, which was programmed to access the NBN to provide early intervention for children in remote areas. The audit Office recommends that more work be done around transition but also that we should measure better the impact of early intervention services for children. I could not agree more. It is a hard thing to do but it is worth trying.

I am going to provide the Audit Office and the department with their first piece of evidence about what the impact of this program has been for a family. They wrote to me on 4 March 2014, and it is from someone I will call K, who is the mother of a little boy called W:

I am writing to give you an update on my son W and the remarkable progress he has made since we have been able to access the Better Start for Children with a Disability funding.

W has Angelman Syndrome and severe epilepsy and has been eligible to access the Better Start funding for the past 12 months.

We are pleased to announce in the past year W has begun rolling, crawling, kneeling, actively investigating known and unknown environments, improved his comprehension, has begun using an alternative method of communication and excitingly, has developed pre walking skills and can stand independently for short periods of time!

Prior to the Better Start Initiative, our family was only able to access physiotherapy once every 6 weeks or so. 12 months ago W could not sit up without support.

With the Better Start assistance, we now access speech pathology, physiotherapy on a fortnightly basis and also hydrotherapy. I think you will agree that all of these services combined have helped W make giant strides forward.

I hope the department is listening to this. K continues:

I am writing to thank you and all those people involved in the implementation of this Initiative from the previous government for believing in our children and the importance of early intervention.

W's new skills has brought a level of independence and confidence to his life.

He has about now gone onto kindy as well. This is an important sentence, Mr Acting Deputy President:

My husband and I also have the confidence and time to participate in more activities as a result of W gaining more skills and independence. My husband is playing AFL this year and I am able to return to casual work. Unheard of when W was so sick and demanded so much of our time.

K is very excited about the future. That is the success of this program. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.