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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17086

Mr BYRNE (9:40 AM) —As members of parliament, we are in a very privileged position. We get the opportunity to have a range of experiences and opportunities which may not be provided to members of the general community. I had one such experience last week when, as a member of parliament, I visited the Narre Warren Centre Preschool. This preschool is one of several early education centres within my electorate of Holt, but it has one very important difference. My electorate is a very child dominated electorate. In the city of Casey—and the member for Flinders will back me up on this—there are 38,115 children aged between zero and 11, so this childcare centre is right in the middle of an exploding growth corridor.

The Narre Warren Centre Preschool has one very special distinction as a child-care centre: one-third of the attendees at the centre are children with special needs. Whilst the centre receives funding from a variety of sources, it relies heavily upon the financial support of Yooralla, a Victorian nonprofit community based organisation. This centre offers the concept of integrated care for children with special needs. It does not believe in hiding children with special needs away in segregated or special classes. This is a very innovative program which commenced about six years ago. The teachers and the coordinators of the school believe that, by the age of four, children with special needs should be with their peer group. In order to accomplish this the preschool has been designed to ensure that children with special needs are able to have a lifestyle as close as possible to that enjoyed by other preschool children.

Last Wednesday I had the chance to see for myself how well this concept works when I met with Ann Slater, the program coordinator, who took me for a tour of this incredible facility. Rarely have I seen such an inspirational centre. The day I was there, 20 children were at the preschool, and eight of them had special needs. You could feel the commitment of the teachers and of the parents, who were acting in a voluntary capacity. This is an unbelievably good program that should be highlighted more in the community. I had the pleasure of meeting a little person called Emma who has cerebral palsy. Emma was on a special swing that they had to pay $400 to obtain. It is a very labour intensive and cost intensive program, but it is a great program.

I would like to have more time to speak about it, but for now I will just say: congratulations! It was a privilege to be amongst committed professionals and parents at the centre. The work of the centre should be highlighted. They should be getting more funding, and anything we can do as a government and as an opposition to highlight the tremendous service that is being provided by this organisation should be endorsed.