7 Apr 2017

Parents of autistic children reeling after services dropped

4:16 pm on 7 April 2017

Parents of children with autism say they are reeling after the cancellation of support services.

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Photo: Idea Services

The country's biggest provider of services to the disabled, IDEA Services, has announced that it will abandon some of its family support programmes after three years of government underfunding - last year to the tune of half a million dollars.

The IHC-run programmes have helped 3000 families since 2013 and there are 700 more on the waiting list.

Its other contracts providing supported living and vocational support will continue.

'Incredibly disappointed'

Disabilities Minister, Nicky Wagner, yesterday criticised IDEA Services during Question Time in Parliament, saying it was abandoning vulnerable clients.

"I am incredibly disappointed that an organisation like IDEA Services that says it cares for its vulnerable, disabled people, has been so irresponsible as to cut services without notice.

"I have been advised by the Ministry of Health that IDEA Services did not intend to renew their contract last week after previously indicating that they would," she said.

IDEA Services had also refused to agree to a temporary three-month contract to allow arrangements to be made to look after their clients.

Mrs Wagner told the House that funding for IDEA Services has been increased over the years.

However, IHC say the increase in overall funding from $180 million in 2008 to $220 million in 2016 was for all contracted services, including a sleepover settlement/adjustment that was passed on to staff.

National MP Nicky Wagner.

Disabilities Minister, Nicky Wagner. Photo: NZ Government. Photo: NZ GOVERNMENT

Anna Ronberg's 15-year-old son had been on the waiting list to get help for two years, but she received a letter this weeksaying the programme has been cancelled.

Ms Ronberg said she was deeply concerned her son would now miss out.

"He needs to learn how to ask for help and control his anxiety, and I know if [high-functioning autistic] children don't get that help, they can inadvertently end up in the justice system and they don't belong there," Ms Ronberg said.

Autism New Zealand also said it was extremely disappointing.

"The more money you can invest earlier, the less money you have to spend, potentially, later on in that child's life,

"So it has come as a bit of a shock to us as well," chief executive, Dane Dougan, said.

Mr Dougan said his organisation would be looking at what it could do to help.

Not enough funds

The IHC said it had made it clear for months that it could not continue with its existing level of funding.

Its chief executive, Ralph Jones, said the situation was "devastating".

"We have used money IHC has raised through fundraising to offer free workshops and courses to families having to wait - and we have been proud to do it...

"In short we have put the time, money and influence of IHC behind this to try to make the contract sustainable but it just doesn't work."