and Remote Education - Tasmania
Devonport public meeting,
3 November 1999 - notes
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
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
'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
'Some of our work
has had some good outcomes, particularly in the media reporting. This
has come out of some of our research.'
'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
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.'
'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.'
'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.'
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.'
'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
'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.