What is it about?

The rollercoaster adventures of parenting three kids, dealing with disability and mental health - and discussing disability discrimination and how to tackle it.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Thank you, but...

I got two letters from the Australian Government recently. The first one came from Centrelink, to let me know I was about the receive a letter from the Hon. Mal Brough, MP, to inform me about the Australian Government’s new Disability Assistance Package. Centrelink then cheerfully informed me that I will be receiving a Child Disability Assistance Payment of $1,000 each year from now on. The letter states that:

"the Australian Government recognizes the importance of assisting children with a disability and their families, while understanding these families have diverse needs which change over time. The payment is intended to assist carers to purchase assistance that best suits the needs of the family."

Some days later, the letter from the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs came, informing me of the same wonderful news. It went into a bit more detail:

"The Australian Government will provide [this money] at a total cost of around $721.2 million over five years. This will assist almost 130,000 children with disability (sic) and their carers. It will contribute towards purchasing necessary support, such as a wheelchair, hoists, home or vehicle modifications, communication aids, therapy and respite. Importantly, the payment provides families with the flexibility to choose the type and level of support they need."

Sounds nice eh?

So why am I pissed off?

Look, thanks for thousand bucks (hang on; with two kids qualifying, I might get twice that. Let’s see). It’s welcome, don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly ungrateful. But let’s face it, a thousand dollars a year is a drop in the ocean. Let’s have a closer look at some prices, as listed on the Independent Living Centre’s website or from our own experience:

- A manual Quickie Children’s wheelchair: $ 3,000 and a bit
- Extreme Powered Wheelchair/Magic Mobility motorized wheelchair: price guide $ 12,000
- Alpha 200 Hoist (Pro-Med) bathroom hoist on wheels: price guide: $ 3,260 to $ 3,620
- A home modification, say, to make a bathroom accessible: $ 16,000 (that’s how much ours was, and this did not involve any hoists or complicated changes)
- A vehicle modification is between $ 35,000 and $ 50,000 (not counting the purchase of the car!) depending on the vehicle and the type of modification
- A Pathfinder Plus (Prenteke Romich), a voice output communication device, which consists of a keyboard and a built in touch screen display. The device has the capability to produce synthesized and digitized speech. Price guide: $ 13,634 to $ 15,143
- Private Speech Therapy: $140 per hour after an initial assessment of $ 220 per hour (and an assessment takes about 2 hours).

So, a thousand dollar doesn’t stretch that far. And in any case, I’d rather not receive this Child Disability Assistance Payment.

Let me tell you why. Let me tell you in a nutshell what I’d rather have.

Either, I’d like to see a decent, well funded system where people are assessed on their needs, and high quality therapies and services are provided promptly to address these needs.

The other option is to give families loads more money (maybe an annual wage for carers) to run their own affairs. I’m talking a couple of hundred thousand dollars over a child’s lifetime, not the odd thousand here or there.

A third option is a combination of the two, where families have the choice to either opt for the first system – say, where the family needs and wants a relatively standard set of services and equipment – or the second, where families prefer or need more flexible arrangements.

Utopian. You’re dreaming, I can hear you say. I know.

Still, there are counties which use this model (generally the combination option). It can be done.

Maybe one day, Australia will come to realize the long-term savings of decent disability services. Maybe one day.

In the meantime, thanks for the little extra help.

1 comment:

Jacqui said...

I was going to write about this on my blog but couldn't work out how to do so without offending people with children with other types of disabilities. Honestly, the $1K does not go very far. Last financial year, we spent over $20K in therapy, treatments and equipment. This year we are already up to $10K, and we do not have a lot of equipment for Moo (much less then we actually need but who can afford it?). Maybe we should be grateful that at least we can find the money, but the truth is - finding the money is increasingly difficult (we have lost all equity we had in our house) and not many people can take hit after hit on their pre-tax income like we do.

But when I was on a chat group (not CPecial Parents) when someone published the announcement, there were all these comments like - now we can put the kids into swimming lessons, or now the kid can go to some sport/art class, or that will pay for speech therapy for the year. In our house, it pays for a fifth of a manual wheelchair, two thirds of a bath chair, would almost pay for a corner chair, half a year of physio or one twenthieth of a year worth of ABR. Sounds like I'm a bit pissed but I'm getting sick of people telling me that this isn't an issue worth considering in the lead up to the election. I'm sick of ordinary families getting tax cuts. I'm sick of hearing about raising child care benefits for the battling families when it is only because I have very close ties to a particular centre that he is even in childcare - let alone the stupidity of only getting funding for 5 hours per day for a carer. Oh, I could go on and on . . .