Experts have urged both major parties to fix a failure of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is forcing children with autism and intellectual disabilities into the child protection system.
“Some families have to make the heartbreaking decision that they are unable to care for their child with disability. To discover their child has been put into the child protection system, and provided with general accommodation with staff who are not trained in disability care … it’s devastating,” CEO of Berry Street, Michael Perusco, said.
Prior to the establishment of the NDIS, the Victorian Government operated specialised disability group homes for children and young people. These homes could be used for a variety of purposes, including when a family made the difficult decision that they could no longer care for their child with disability. Under the NDIS, these homes have been transferred to the National Disability Insurance Agency, and are being operated by external providers.
Because the NDIS doesn’t fund accommodation, children with disability are now being placed in the general out-of-home care system when they’re not able to be with their families – not in disability-specific group homes.
“We’re seeing around 30 per cent of all residential care places in Victoria today being used for children with disability. Hundreds of children are being impacted across Victoria and other states,” Mr Perusco said.
Berry Street provides services to children, young people and families impacted by abuse, violence and neglect across Victoria, including out-of-home care.
Mr Perusco says children with autism and intellectual disabilities need specialised support and care, and staff and carers need to be appropriately trained.
“I urge Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten to commit to fixing this appalling situation for Victorian children with disability, and their families.”
“We should be trying to keep families and children out of the child protection system, not forcing them into it,” Mr Perusco said.
Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of Victoria’s peak body for child and family services – the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, says this situation is causing extreme harm to children with disability and their families.
“Children living with disability can’t just be put into the child protection system,” Ms Tsorbaris said.
“Not only are these children distressed and traumatised by the new environment they are placed in, which does not recognise their individual needs, their families are subjected to the stress of being involved in the child protection system, and the staff simply aren’t trained to provide the care these children need.”
"The NDIS needs to recognise that there are cases where accommodation needs to be funded, and specialised staff are required to support the young people and their families,” Ms Tsobaris said.
Mr Perusco says urgent change is needed from the next elected Federal Government.
“Instead of delivering a specialised service that best meets the needs of the family and the child, the family and the child are distressed and traumatised by the NDIS – exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do,” Mr Perusco said.
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