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Rural and Remote Education - Tasmania


and Remote Education - Tasmania

Devonport public meeting,

3 November 1999 - notes

The participants

at the Devonport community meeting made children's health and disability

support their focus. Discussion detailed the various ancillary health

and support services available to schools. Special education was also

an important topic in this meeting.


'Giant Steps is an

autism-specific centre that is registered as a school under State legislation.

It is a private, non-Catholic Centre funded principally by contract through

the State Government Education Department. The project has been running

for 7 years and the centre has been here for 4 years. It is located in

the Deloraine community.

'The project was

established by groups of parents who worked together over a period of

time. We receive a small amount of money from the Commonwealth government

and parents pay fees of $4,500 each year. We take 15 full-time students.

These students are all moderate to severe on the autism spectrum. In principle

the centre is open to children from all over Tasmania, though in practice

it is only accessible to children from Northern Tasmania. This reflects

what is reasonable in terms of daily travel. Parents are responsible for

the transportation of their children. The parents get a small, State government

allowance that does not cover the transport costs.

'Attracting and retaining

specialists in regional areas such as Deloraine is particularly difficult.

This includes occupational therapists and speech pathologists. Tasmania

is specifically disadvantaged in this area, as it has no course of training

in either of these fields.

'There is an educational

and a therapeutic program at Giant Steps. Originally we wanted to provide

a transition program into mainstream education. Yet our goals have changed

because more and more we are seeing children who will not fit into the

mainstream systems. At Giant Steps every child has an individualised program.

We are engaged in some integration programs with schools but this is a

complex process. There has been some contact with schools but it is on

the basis that the child is fully supported by someone from Giant Steps

and that the classroom teacher does not have to contribute anything to

the child's program.'

'If children are

bypassing a local special school, or there is a special school within

a 50 kilometre radius of the home, then the family of a child at Giant

Steps will not be eligible for the Assistance for Isolated Children funds.

The Giant Steps program is not considered to be a more appropriate school

when there are special schools closer by. This means that there are no

funding subsidies.'

Case study: disability

'To give the subject

a personal perspective, I would like to talk about my son. As farmers

we cannot move from where we are. When my son was 2 he was involved with

early special education. They didn't know what to do with him. They kept

pushing him up a year and then they would ring me to come and take him

home early. Later my son was at the local special school but they could

not cope with him. He is now at Giant Steps.

'Transport has been

a huge issue for our family. When my child started Giant Steps I drove

him to Deloraine each day for a year with my younger child. Then when

my younger child started school it was too hard to continue with the travel

for the 2 of them. There is no school bus for her and I could not get

to Deloraine. I withdrew my son and put him back at the special school

but they could not cope with him. When we wanted to go back to Giant Steps

the Government told us to get in a car pool. Disability Services does

not do transport. The Education Department was not willing to help us

with transport. It became a pitched battle for us to get him into the

only program that had made a difference for him and for us. We put him

in respite service for 6 weeks. They soon realised that he was not the

kind of kid who could be transported by car pool and they gave us some

money. There was no understanding that he has a right to specialist education.

'Now Giant Steps

has become a new nightmare for us. It is constantly threatened with closure

so we must be involved in fundraising because if it closes what have we

got? The pressure of being at Giant Steps has been huge this year. We

want something that is secure. The special school is secure but it cannot

offer him what he needs. They don't want kids like my kid who have a profound

disability and challenging behaviours. He will never get speech therapy

in this region. He hits because he can't communicate. But where is the

speech therapy to change this to teach him to sign or to communicate?

'We had a speech

therapist last year but every obstacle was put in her way to stop her

delivering a service to children like mine. She ended up doing generalist

consultative work. We also know that poor muscle tone can lead to aggression.

But there is no physiotherapy for my child. Now the only way that my son

gets some physiotherapy is because I get into the pool with him to work

on his gross motor skills.

'These kids are now

treated like the leftovers of this community. Firstly he is not properly

educated and then he is not provided for. There are no facilities for

children such as mine. He will not be able to go into a group home. He

doesn't fit into any of the special education programs and yet we must

live daily with the threat of closure of Giant Steps.

'In July Giant Steps

had to reduce the program because they did not have enough funding to

run the intensive program. This had a distressing result for my son. He

is now not progressing; he is treading water. If this continues he will

regress because the staff will not stay in positions where their jobs

are not secure. If kids like mine don't fit the funding quota then I think

we should change the rules. Children who have challenging behaviours should

be given priority because it will be cost effective in the long run. He

will cost a lot less in the future if he gets speech therapy now and learns

to communicate now.

'In many ways children

with autism have the most complex needs, are least understood and require

the most intensive resources. Respite care becomes a huge issue too because

respite workers don't know what to do and family based care and residential

care organisations make decisions that they don't want to care for kids

with autism. They find them too difficult. It is actually a secondary

level of discriminatory behaviour. In a recreation sense there are very

few outlets for children with needs like my son. I keep being told that

he is not compatible with the group and I'm talking about groups of children

with special needs. There is just nowhere for him to go.'

Funding for disability


'We need to have

links from the policy level through to the service level. There is no

communication even across services. We need to use our scarce resources

and work together. I'd say that nearly every person in this room struggles

with funding for their different programs. At the policy level they need

to be able to allow for flexibility so that we can work together to provide

the best services. Trying to get funding that extends beyond one year

where you can do some planning is almost unheard of. We spend so much

of our energy just getting the limited funding that we have.'

'It was far more

difficult to get funding from the Health Department than it was from the

Education Department for Giant Steps. We have dual enrolment where a child

can be enrolled in a mainstream school and at a special school. This is

why we are better off being funded through the Education Department than

the Health Department.

'In July we had to

cut 30% of our staff. We lost 2 staff members and all staff took a cut

in hours and salary. We did this to save the service. The bulk of our

staff work with the children 4 days a week rather than 5. The 2 full time

jobs that went were both special therapy positions. One of the positions

was the music therapist. This has made a huge change to the quality of

the program.'

Sexual health

'There is an overwhelming

need for resources right across this region. One of the problems that

I find that there are funding restraints on the teachers so that they

can't be released to do the sexual health training. This occurs for 2

reasons. One is that the schools don't have the dollars for this training

and the other reason is that it is not considered to be a priority. We

ran a training session here a while ago and only one teacher came to it.'

'The extent to which

teachers are released is discretional and based on the decision made by

the principal. There is also limited money for this kind of training and

time release.'

'Some of our work

has had some good outcomes, particularly in the media reporting. This

has come out of some of our research.'

Youth suicide

'There are still

young men committing suicide in this region. The anxiety rates are very

high for children in schools and I mean primary schools. By the time that

they get to secondary schools these kids are put on a depression register.'

'The resilience program

to deal with youth suicide has 2 components. One is called 'Parents' and

the other is called 'Teenagers'. It is about developing understanding

between parents and teenagers and getting each group to understand the

pressures that the other is under. Learning what the emotions mean and

learning about how to cope with them without copping out. It has been

quite successful in Queensland. This is funded by the Education Department.

'There are problems

though with the funding for youth programs such as this one. There are

5 different areas where you could get youth funding for projects and it

is very political and there is no cohesion, no overall vision and coherence

at a policy level. Therefore there are buckets of money everywhere and

their distribution is not coordinated at the program level.'

'We currently don't

have phones or computers or cars. We use all of our own resources. In

rural communities such as this one you need these resources because the

kids don't have access to so many resources and I mean computer and information

technology communications.'

Gay and lesbian

and transgender issues

'We have not been

able to implement the core of the "Working it Out" program. That is not

because the schools are not willing. It has more to do with the need for

further research and then taking it on at the school level. It has actually

fallen into a heap because we have not been able to attract the funds

to develop the project further.

'The work and research

that we have done so far now sits on a shelf. We currently have a submission

in for funding and we are waiting for the outcome.

'We have a new anti-discrimination

position in Tasmania and this is the greatest opportunity that gay, lesbian

and transgender young people have to protect their human rights.'

Challenging behaviours

'There have been

many young people who have behaviour problems and now they have become

parents. These young parents have not had access to resources while they

were children and now the cycle is repeating itself with their children.

As adults they do not have access to the specialised counselling services

that they need. The children of these people have compounded problems.

They have behavioural and learning problems and they are unable to receive

any support at home.

'These kids need

some support when they are young at pre-school level at about the age

of 3. Another problem here is transport. There is no money to transport

these children to the support services. The families are on low incomes

and they don't have the petrol money to take the child to the service.

There is no money also for transport in order to do the outreach work.'

Assessment services

'There has been a

diminishing of services. The psychologist has left and the speech pathologist

is past retirement age though she has stayed on. We had problems getting

a paediatric speech therapist. On the nursing side of things there are

no longer school health checks, there is only a hearing and sight test.

If you are not there on the day you miss out. In terms of picking up the

problem earlier, it is much more difficult.'

'Support services

are provided based on the number of children of a certain age and on the

birth rate. As there is a declining birth rate, so too have the services


'The problem here

in Devonport is that our resources are so thin. If we were to go to the

West Coast to do outreach services, we would take a whole lot of time

travelling, and of course this would take away the direct service provision

in Devonport. Someone always misses out.

'If you lived in

Hobart or Launceston you could access specialist services like speech

pathologists both through the government and the private system and the

Education Department would pay. We don't have those options here. More

work is being pushed across to generic services.

'In the North West

we are trying to develop an Allied Health Service. We are trying to put

all the health services together under one management structure. That

would join community health, hospital health positions and disability

services. We are working on this. We might then be able to package positions

and sell hours to programs like Giant Steps. This would mean that that

we could have full-time positions and these positions could be allocated

across the sectors where they are needed.'

Case study: technology

for disability support

'To draw your attention

to one young woman with an intellectual disability, she is now 18 years

old but has only had a communicator for the last year. She is now able

to drive her own wheelchair and she is learning to read and write. But

this has taken so long. Why didn't she have access to these resources

earlier? If she had these resources she would have probably been working

by now. As it is, she will probably be a burden on the state for the rest

of her life.'

Deteriorating services

'The real worry for

many disability services now is that they will be downgraded to the point

that they will be babysitting services and the parents will withdraw the

children and the service will close. This is also occurring with post-schooling

for adults with disabilities. The cost for post-schooling disability services

requires a good deal, if not all of the pension, and yet it is little

more than babysitting. Yet in the larger urban areas they have programs

from 9 until 3.'

'As a specialist

service, we have been asked to justify our work in terms of outcomes.

This is a problem because we are better off taking children with moderate

intellectual disabilities in a group of 5 rather than taking 1 child with

a severe disability on his/her own for whom progress would be really slow.

The other side of this is that the children with very mild disabilities

are missing out because there are fewer services and we have to prioritise

our work.

'What happens then

is that you end up with a bigger group of people who are going to get

nowhere. We are not going to be able to pick up the problems early either

and this means that the problems are going to be entrenched. This is not

effective in terms of resources or outcomes.'


updated 2 December 2001.