3 Sep 2018

'Jaw-dropping' delays for special education

From Checkpoint, 5:50 pm on 3 September 2018

Delays in specialist support for children with disabilities under five in the Wellington region are "ridiculous", parents and teachers say.

They said pre-schoolers with special needs were waiting six or eight months for help, and many were nearly ready for school by the time they received the assistance they needed.

Ministry of Education figures showed the average waiting time for early intervention support in Wellington in 2017-18 was 196 days, more than double the national average of 99 days and up from 131 days in 2016-17.

Yahna Gray said her three-year-old son, Kayden, needed specialist help for delayed social and verbal skills, but she had been told he would not get any assistance for about eight months.

"He's three at the moment and so when, and if, he is able to get into this, he's not going to be able to reap the rewards of the system that's in place before school can start."

Ms Gray said the delay was "pretty jaw-dropping".

"It's something you want to deal with now rather than later because early childhood years are the most precious years and you develop so much, so fast."

The head teacher at Cottle Kindergarten in Upper Hutt, Soreen Scahill, said under-five-year-olds should not have to wait so long for help.

children sit on the mat at an early childhood centre

Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

"Waiting lists, they just don't work in early childhood because you have to do something straight away for their development.

"We're losing that opportunity."

Ms Scahill said she told parents they would have to wait six or eight months for help, but sometimes it was even longer.

A referral for a child submitted eighteen months ago was only now receiving services - just six months before she was to start school, she said.

Ministry of Education national director of learning support David Wales said a combination of factors caused Wellington's long waiting times.

"In Wellington there's been some historical ways of working with those young people and organising the work and we're really focused now on getting a better way of working. We've also had some vacancies in the Wellington region that we're seeking to address so that we can get up to speed there."

Mr Wales said waiting times in all regions would fall because the government's Budget in May included $21.5 million over the next four years specifically for the early intervention service.