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Friday, 2 December 1983
Page: 3240

Senator MESSNER —My question to the Minister for Social Security refers to the handicapped child's allowance. Is the Minister aware that host families in Toowoomba, Queensland, who look after children from isolated areas who have hearing impairments and who are attending the special education unit at Wilsonton State School had been advised by the Department of Social Security that they could apply for the handicapped child's allowance? Is he further aware that when they did apply, their claims were subsequently rejected? Can the Minister offer any comment on that case? Can he also advise what assistance is available to those host families who may incur considerable costs in caring for children in those circumstances?

Senator GRIMES —Senator Messner raises an important matter which has been brought to my attention by the Special Education Unit in Toowoomba at, I think, the Wilsonton State School, and, in fact, by the host parents who are involved in this area. A small number of deaf childen from isolated areas in Queensland live with host families in Toowoomba so that they can attend the special units that are available at this school. I believe that it is an important and useful scheme. Host parents sign an agreement with the Queensland Minister for Education to provide accommodation and care for the children. They are paid an allowance for caring for the children in accordance with a scale which the Queensland Government's Education Department has established in consultation with those parents.

The difficulty is that the natural parents retain legal custody, care and control of the children while the children live with the host parents. Accordingly, the natural families continue to receive the family allowance. In general, they retain responsibility for most of the children's expenses, although I am informed by the organisation representing the host parents that, of course, some people-frequently because they are unable to do so-cannot contribute as much as perhaps they could or should to their children's expenses. Difficulty arises out of this situation because the host parents do not qualify for the handicapped child's allowance for these children because they do not have custody, care and control of the children. They therefore do not receive the family allowance; they are ineligible. I think everyone accepts that this is an unsatisfactory situation.

Many of the aspects of the handicapped child's allowance and its interrelationship with the family allowance are at the moment under examination. This matter has been referred to the Social Security Handicapped Persons Review Team which at the moment is looking at provisions of services for handicapped children generally, but in particular, I think that we always run into problems when we try to define eligibility in this area, particularly when we tie eligibility for one benefit to eligibility for another benefit, as happens here. I can assure Senator Messner that I do not see the situation as being satisfactory. It certainly was not anticipated by any previous government in its administration of the handicapped child's allowance. I hope that we can come up with a satisfactory answer in this regard as soon as possible.