Disability Service Providers on both sides of the Queensland border have been dipping into discretionary funding to support families that have been left without a satisfactory education option for their child with special needs.
Funding for disability services is generally confined by a rigid set of parameters that define what that funding is to be used for, however, some organisations on the Gold Coast have access to ‘discretionary funding’ which is allowing them to be more flexible in their responses to the challenges facing families and individuals with disability.
Dorothy McIntyre from Centacare Southern Star Community Services on the Gold Coast advised that ‘discretionary funding’ is available and families are able to apply for this funding on a case by case basis.
“The funding is flexible and can be used to pay for things that sit outside of the general funding guidelines” she said.
There are very few Disability Services in Queensland that hold “discretionary funding” as the vast majority of funding is provided for respite, accommodation and equipment and aids and does not allow families to utilise funding for things like education support.
Megan Young, the owner and educator of Flourish Education Services, provides learning programs for kids with and without special needs and can confirm that, on occasions, her services are paid for by Disability Service Providers who work with families that have experienced significant challenges when trying to find suitable learning support in their mainstream school environment.
“The situation at mainstream schools is sometimes not conducive to supporting young people with special needs, however, a special school – the option often offered to families – is also, not always appropriate” says Megan.
Unfortunately, “a lack of adequate support is a common experience for many children with special needs across the Gold Coast”, says Samantha Dunnachie, a Disability Consultant who has worked with families and individuals impacted by disability for 20 years. In the following interview she shares some of the challenges she has watched families face when trying to secure a quality education for a child with special needs.
Recent statistics compiled by the Queensland Teachers Union show that 5.1% of the children in our schools are considered to fit into the category of Special Needs and these can range from assistance required for learning support, all the way through to those who require support in their interactions and social skills.
This is a significant number of children who, in varying degrees, are not being provided with the opportunity to be educated in a way that best suits their learning requirements. As the following report tweeted by Children with Disability Australia and first published in the Irish Times explains, the effects of this can be far reaching.
The ability for children to access education in a safe, supported, flexible environment is a basic human right and debate about how best to achieve these aims is not missing in our society, however in the past, Governments and policy makers have been slow to address the problem.
However it appears there is some action beginning to occur and in response to the growing dissatisfaction with the support provided to students with special needs The Queensland Department of Education will be participating in the nationally consistent collection of data on school students with disability through a phased approach from 2013. All Australian schools will be participating by 2015.
According to the Department this “information will help all Australian schools to better meet their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 and improve support for the learning needs and aspirations of students with disability. It has the potential to contribute to a more inclusive schooling system for all Australian students”.
Story, video and photography by Kirsty Schmitt