Media Release by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Helping more children with disability get the best start in life

The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Jan McLucas, today visited the Cerebral Palsy League in New Farm, Brisbane, to announce the expansion of the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative.

Senator McLucas said hundreds more children with disability will be eligible for critical early intervention services and therapies after the Australian Government expanded the eligibility criteria for its successful Better Start initiative.

“The Australian Government’s $13.4 million boost over five years to expand the Better Start initiative means that from 1 January 2013, children diagnosed with Prader Willi, Williams, Angelman, Kabuki Make Up, Smith-Magenis, CHARGE, Cornelia de Lange, Cri du Chat syndromes and microcephaly can access Better Start funding for the first time,” Senator McLucas said.

“Eligible children under the age of seven will be able to register to access early intervention funding of up to $12,000 (up to a maximum of $6,000 per financial year).

“More than 5,300 children across Australia have registered for Better Start and accessed more than 59,700 early intervention services since the initiative started in July last year.

“We are extending these services to children diagnosed with other disabilities where there is strong evidence of the benefits of early intervention, so they can also get the best start in life.

“This additional funding is expected to help about 1,200 extra children access crucial early interventions.”

Better Start provides families with funding to access therapies such as speech pathology, audiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, optometry, psychology, orthoptics and services of teachers of the deaf.

The Government sought expert advice on evidence on the effectiveness of early intervention in July 2011, resulting in a report from KPMG which recommended the expansion of the Better Start program to include these additional eight conditions.

Senator McLucas said it was fantastic to see so many children benefiting from Better Start.

Better Start gives parents the financial assistance they need to access services that can make a real difference in their children’s lives,” Senator McLucas said.

“We know that investing in early intervention for children with disabilities before they get to school gives them the best chance of reaching their full potential.”

Under Better Start children with the listed disabilities will also be eligible for Medicare rebates up to the age of 15, providing there is a treatment and management plan in place before the age of 13.

Medicare rebates are also available for up to four allied health diagnostic services and for 20 allied health services (in total) per eligible child.

Senator McLucas said the Better Start initiative will help inform the approach to early intervention services for children with disability as the Government works towards the start a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“The Government is investing $1 billion to launch the first stage of a National Disability Insurance Scheme from the middle of next year – a year ahead of the timetable set out by the Productivity Commission,” Senator McLucas said.

“The first stage will start in the Hunter in NSW, the Barwon area of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT.

“From July 2013, around 20,000 people with disability, their families and carers will start to benefit from a National Disability Insurance Scheme.”

From 1 January 2013, parents or carers of newly eligible children will be able to register their child for Better Start by contacting the Better Start Registration and Information Service delivered by Carers Australia on 1800 242 636.