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Mr River Night
Leading National Disability Sector Advocate
Co-founder at Developing Australian Communities
Public Officer at the National Disability Leadership Organisation
Mr Night is physically located in Brisbane this week
Mr Night is a National Disability Sector Advocate and outspoken supporter for reform and improvements in the Disability and NDIS sector and has worked across Disability, Youth Justice, Guardianship, Child Safety, Education, TAFE, Aged Care, Forensic Disability and Mental Health over 30 years.
“With the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that 12% of boys and 7.1% of girls in the school aged population have a disability it is concerning that almost all of them seem to trying to access NDIS. Or is it?” said Mr Night today.
“When 4.4 million Australians are living with disability but around 600 000 access the NDIS, why is there such a huge rate of school aged children accessing the scheme compared to the rest of the population?
“As someone who has spent a lot of my professional life managing children’s services and working in educational settings, special education, youth detention, as well as, service provider settings, as a National Disability Advocate, I am appalled by the lack of practical delivery of early intervention and support for school aged Australians.
“This week we hear talk from our federal government about caps and controls, limits and targets for school aged children accessing the NDIS. This isn't about stopping access to services. It is about understanding the NDIS is not the only option and should not be seen as the only option.
"The reason school aged children under 14yo are so hugely represented as a population trying to access the NDIS, is because school and school years are where a major focus is on early intervention and support. Why then do we have a scheme that funds and works outside of the school setting trying to do the heavy lifting in terms of intervention?
“Many of the services accessed and funded by the NDIS are services delivered traditionally by schools and Medicare funded professionals. Why not resource them better instead of doubling up and taking the most expensive option as our default?
"If we consider regional areas also, NDIS isn't a solution as the major focus. Many regional communities have few service provider options to start with, let alone professionals for early intervention.
"Around 10% of NDIS participants are aged 6yo and under and a little less for 7yo - 18yo's. Autism makes up the primary diagnosis for most people accessing NDIS but most funding goes to those with physical support needs. Some of the last numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggested 9.5% of males and 5.7% of females 0-14yo have a disability.
“NDIS and individually funded early interventions, therapy and capacity building for young people is the most expensive way to go about it. That is only one way to do it but it has become the default and focus. This is why the cost is so scary.
“Individually funding a child to go out and access separate service options, as often their only option, does little to support the school setting, teachers and the community.
“If we use the NDIS and ABS statistics, let's look at a practical extreme example. If I had a school of 500 students with 12% accessing NDIS, let's say each child is funded between $5000 and $30 000 a year through NDIS to access services outside of school. That's potentially 60 children with a budget of between $300 000 to over a million collectively in spending from the NDIS outside of the school setting. We then see those young people spend each day at school so the Education Department then has to spend their own funds to support these young people in the school setting on top of the NDIS spending. Instead of this double up it would be a fraction of the cost to employ full time professions in each school where school aged children are spending their time.
“Schools and teaching staff are in desperate need of practical support so an over emphasis on a federal scheme that doesn't fund support in educational settings and doesn't boost state education resources is plain odd in practical terms.
“With over 1 billion dollars a year in some states already being spent by State Education Departments to support children with disabilities, why do we see so many parents running and grabbing onto NDIS as a lifeboat to address unmet need?
“There is no doubt that individual intervention services are effective, however, it would be far more cost effective to predominantly fund professionals to work within each school to support early intervention, programs for students, including those with learning difficulties that may never access the NDIS, support teachers and the whole school community as the major focus.
“We must stop the silo approach of NDIS, education state departments, Medicare and health departments all doing their own thing exclusively instead of pooling those funds and doing what is logical to support children. We need to work smart not hard when we have a finite budget.
“There are amazing programs, early intervention and disability support professionals in our state education department desperate for additional funds and resources so spending billions on outside of school options as our main focus does not make sense.
“The huge number of school age children trying to access services through the NDIS demonstrates the appalling lack of support and unmet need we have in our education system. For school aged children, schools are where the majority of spending needs to be.
“There are fantastic programs for 1:1 intervention and support for school aged children outside of school settings. I am deeply concerned they are going to be stretched beyond capacity if they are expected to carry the majority of support unless our major investment on boosting existing services in schools and expanding school based programs to also support our teachers.
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