Jake Mitchell’s mum credits the Early Childhood Intervention Service with helping him at school. (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
There are concerns the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will not match a highly-regarded program it is set to overtake, which is specifically tailored for children with disabilities.
Jake Mitchell, six, has autism and struggles to communicate, but his mother Ronsely said he has been making steady progress in prep at Trevallyn Primary School and credits the Early Childhood Intervention Service (ECIS).
“Jake was about three and a half when he first went to the service. We accessed it because we had a few concerns about his development and we went from there,” she said.
The Mitchells were able to access speech pathology services, a specialised play group for Jake – but most importantly assistance with the difficult transition to school.
“Jake’s needs are quite high and I’m not sure how that would have been organised if we [didn’t] have the ECIS,” Ms Mitchell said.
Current program is ‘education specific’
Last week, the Education Department started phasing out ECIS due to the expansion of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Kristen Desmond says it is not just children with disabilities accessing the ECIS. (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
From July 1, Tasmanians aged four to 11 became eligible for the NDIS, meaning it was now responsible for funding and managing disability services for that age bracket.
“We’re really concerned about the gaps that brings because ECIS really provides some education-specific services and that’s not actually going to happen under the NDIS because they don’t fund education-specific things,” Tasmania’s Disability Education Reform Lobby’s Kristen Desmond said.
Ms Desmond said one of the critical parts of ECIS was the work it did around transition to school.
“They work with families on learning plans, individual education plans and help them work with the school to make sure the supports are in place,” she said.
“That’s the bit we’re really worried about, that education-specific stuff, because the NDIS won’t fund that type of transitional support.”
Helen Richardson, president of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Education Union, is also worried.
“ECIS provides quality developmental education programs for children entering school and we’re concerned there may be gaps particularly in the teaching and learning component,” she said.
“It’s really important that there is that component, because it’s valued by our teachers, parents and obviously the students.”
Concerns children will slip through the cracks
Ms Desmond said it was not only children with disabilities accessing the service, but those with behavioural problems, or those considered “at risk”.
The Minister has sought to assure families they will be listened to. (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
“What happens to the children who aren’t caught up in the early intervention net of the NDIS?” she said.
“Because normally you can show up to ECIS if you’ve got a concern, you can show up there with your child and get support. It’s not going to be the same because you’re going to have to qualify through the NDIS.
“If your child isn’t developmentally delayed but you’ve got other concerns and that’s why you’re going to the ECIS, we’re not sure where else there will be for those kids to go.”
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the Government recognised the importance of the service.
“In fact, ECIS in Tasmania is really the best service around Australia and we recognise that Tasmanian families don’t want to lose that,” he said.
“We’re going to work with families to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible, but also to ensure any new system is a similar service to that being offered.”
‘Every parent, every family will be listened to’
The Education Department are set to completely phase out the ECIS by 2019.
Mr Rockliff said that date gave the Government time to work with the National Disability Insurance Agency to ensure the best outcome for families.
“As a government and certainly I as a minister will make sure every parent, every family is listened to, to make sure the transition is smooth, effective and to ensure the resources applied to this area are what they are now.”
Ms Desmond said she was not criticising the NDIS.
“The NDIS will bring choice and control to these families and that’s fantastic and we’re not saying that shouldn’t happen,” she said.
“What we’re worried about are the gaps in the service. ECIS is a unique service.”