Media Release by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Supporting deaf and blind children

Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers Senator Jan McLucas today met with local children with disabilities and their families who will benefit from improved access to targeted early intervention services at the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) in North Rocks, Sydney.

Highlighting the importance of early intervention for children with developmental disabilities, Senator McLucas said the Australian Government’s new Better Start for Children with Disability initiative will help reduce the financial burden on parents and carers of children with a disability, making vital early intervention services and therapies more affordable and accessible.

“We know that intensive early intervention in the pre-school years can be very effective for children with hearing and/or vision impairment,” Senator McLucas said.

“Access to high quality services early in childhood is critical for helping these children to better participate in everyday life and attend school.”

In the recent Federal Budget, the Australian Government committed $146.5 million over four years to deliver Better Start.

Senator McLucas said children with moderate or greater vision or hearing impairment will have access to a range of intensive early intervention services such as speech pathologists, Teachers of the Deaf and audiologists through the new Better Start initiative.

From 1 July this year, eligible children will have access to a total of $12,000 in flexible funding for early intervention services and will be able to use up to $6,000 in any one financial year.

The Better Start initiative is expected to help more than 9,000 children aged under six years who have been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, Fragile X syndrome, and moderate or severe vision or hearing impairments, including deafblindness.

Carers Australia will act as an entry point for parents to register eligible children for Better Start over the phone or in person at the Registration and Information Service offices based in every capital city and in regional centres across Australia.

More information is also available by calling the Better Start helpline on 1800 989 530 between 8:30am and 5:00pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).

Senator McLucas said “Better Start builds on the success of the Australian Government’s Helping Children with Autism package.”

In the recent Federal Budget, the Government is providing an additional $29 million to meet increased demand in 2010-11 and 2011-12 for early intervention services for children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

During her visit to the RIDBC, Senator McLucas recognised the life changing service to children with hearing and vision impairment the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children has been delivering for over 150 years.

The Institute has grown to become Australia’s largest independent special educator, providing education and support to more than 950 children and their families across Australia each year.

“The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children is helping to ensure children receive the best possible preparation for their transition to school and participation in everyday life, as well as providing a network of support for parents and carers.”