98% spin, 2% traction - Government teen disability scheme

Media Release

The Hon Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Disability Reform, says the Government's outside school hours care for teenagers with a disability (OTD) program, that reaches just 2% of teenage students with a disability, "is having a positive impact on teenagers with disability and their families". The Minister's spin, headed "Teenagers with disability benefiting from outside school program" (see http://www.jennymacklin.fahcsia.gov.au/mediareleases/2012/Pages/jm_m_tee...), is in a media release dated 22/2/2012 relating to a review from May 2011 (see http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/disability/funding/outsideschoolcare/Docume..., link at http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/disability/funding/outsideschoolcare/Pages/...). A4 asked the Minister's office about the delay but they did not call back.

The program review was asked "To what extent is the OTD Program effective in achieving its intended outcomes?" It seems the OTD Program did not define its "intended outcomes" so the reviewers had to infer "intended outcomes" from documents such as the Program Guideline. Department staff felt that phrases such as "The Activity provides ... quality outside school hours care for students with disability ..." were "generally accepted to be the intended outcomes of the OTD initiative".

The words leave open whether the "intended outcomes" were to provide care for all students with disability who need it, for a selected few students or somewhere in between. The review says:

The ABS has estimated from the 2003 ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers that the number of young people aged 12-18 with profound or severe disability who attend school was 60,400.

The OTD program is currently providing 1077 places. Based on this figure, it is fair to say that it is likely that less than 2% of teenagers with a disability access any form of OTD funded services and there remains significant unmet demand for OTD places.

The review also says "the OTD initiative is effective in achieving its intended outcomes". One can only conclude that the intended outcome is to provide a service only for a select 2% of teenage students with severe or profound disability; it is not accessible for 98% of teenagers with severe or profound disability. The reviewers visited the solitary site of the program in the ACT; the one ACT site that provides a small number (five?) of places that are only available to students who depend on wheelchairs.

Families and carers are disappointed that the Commonwealth Government intends so many teenagers with severe or profound disability are currently excluded from the OTD program. The Government has not indicated it will expand the program to meet demand for such a service.

The Minister's response is not disability reform, it is more of the same. It is disappointing that despite overwhelming evidence that reform is needed, the Australian Government is again showing it intends to avoid tackling disability issues.

The Commonwealth Government ignored/avoided vigorous calls from the ACT community for more after-school places for teenagers with severe or profound disability.

Thankfully, following support from the ACT Greens and local media, families convinced the ACT Government to improve its after-school and holiday care programs for teenage students with a disability (see http://www.autismaspergeract.com.au/content/students-disabilities%E2%80%... and http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-25/act-after-school-care-disabled-stu...).

The Government's media release shows "Senator McLucas said the National Disability Strategy will help to ensure that people with disability have the same opportunities as other Australians". We appreciate strategy to ensure people with a disability can access all the same services as everyone else, that is services that citizens generally need. But other teenage students (that is teenage students without a disability) do not have/need after-school care services, so this issue is beyond the scope of COAG's National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (NDS). This exemplifies a substantial flaw in the NDS: it fails to recognise that people with a disability have needs that other people do not have. Governments in Australia must recognise that disability-specific needs are often critical; and those needs must be addressed. A NDS that does not recognise and address disability-specific needs is a partial strategy at best.

People with disability may be disappointed that they are stuck with a partial National Disability Strategy for another eight years.