PRESCHOOL children who need extra teacher support are being shown the door by childcare centres unable to afford specialist staff. A funding shortfall of about $10 an hour per specialist teacher is forcing parents to depend on the generosity of early childcare centres which fork out hundreds of dollars to make up the difference.
Parents say they are subject to “double discrimination” because they have to leave the workforce to stay at home and look after their preschoolers. Parents
care are outlaying between $23,520 to $32,897 each year. The Bulletin has viewed submissions to the Productivity Commission review into early childcare and obtained feedback from Coast parents and educators which shows the system is in crisis. The lack of funding and specialist preschool staff flows on to schools as more undiagnosed children with autism-related disorders arrive for Prep. The Coast received $624,356 in funding last year but those support services largely focused on kids with cultural and language difficulties or from an indigenous background.
Only 564 disabled Coast kids were enrolled in programs with 336 early childhood services eligible for benefits. Some parents who gained approval for centre support are on 12-month waiting list. Government agencies can take three weeks to “sign off on a child” due to staffing problems. The Queensland Inclusion Network, which helps roll out support programs, found parents noted “prejudices and bias towards disability in some child education and care centres”.
“Services should not be encouraged to charge parents with disabilities more for care, irrespective of the costs,” the group said in its submission. One in 160 children in Australia aged from six to 12 has an autism spectrum disorder. Another submission, by economic consultants, said more than 1200 children were born with ASD each year. The neurobiological disorder is creating an economic cost between $8.1 to $11.2 billion annually. Synergies Economic Consulting predict that cost will be reduced if specialists are funded because parents can join the workforce and development outcomes improve for their child.
Coast parents and educators confirm carers are “shopping around” for preschool centres willing to take young children with disabilities. Coast mother Jade Kearney, 31, found her older children could get support at a mainstream school but had difficulty in finding a childcare centre for her three-year old daughter Sibellah.
“Being a parent of children with special needs is exhausting. Having Sibellah at kindy allows me to spend time with my other children,” she said. AMAZE Early Education Centre operator Lucy Cook agreed for her Mudgeeraba centre to make up the shortfall and will stage an open day today to discuss the options for frustrated parents.
“Funding is available for a few hours a day. But the needs of these children don’t diminish when the support worker’s funding ends and they leave for the day,” Ms Cook said.
Childcare Fund Crisis by Paul Weston — [email protected]