10 Nov 2021

Petition seeks to raise carer support subsidy to acknowledge lockdown challenges

11:05 am on 10 November 2021

Parents are not coping and some are considering leaving their jobs as they look for a way to support children with additional needs and juggle work commitments during lockdown.

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The majority of Auckland students have missed 11 weeks of in-class time. File photo Photo: 123RF

One Auckland mother, Angela Hood, has created a petition asking the government to step in with additional funding to the carer support payment.

Currently, the maximum funding is $80 a day, with the Ministry of Health having increased the payment by $4 in the last financial year.

With lockdowns, Hood said the payments were quickly disappearing as families sought help from individual support workers at increased cost.

"These are parents who are really, really trying and they won't give up on their children - you see the parents just keep on going.

"Seventy-five percent of special needs parents at our school are single parents, so they are doing it by themselves and they may not have a lot of support."

Caring for a child with additional needs was a full-time task and research likened the stress that parents faced to a soldier in combat, Hood said.

"Those soldiers come back from duty, but parents don't come off duty. We are always thinking about our children, we're always concerned just like any other person.

"For the children, they don't understand [lockdown] but for the parent, it is incredibly tiring because we don't get a break."

The funding was aimed at giving families respite during the year, however, it was measured on a normal year where school was in place, she said.

The majority of Auckland students have missed 11 weeks of in-class time. In Waikato, it has been eight.

Hood said she wanted more funding so families could hire a carer while in lockdown, even if just for a couple of hours.

"It gives the parents some partial respite. For some parents, it would give them maybe an hour or two out of the house.

"A lot of it is also about recognition and about how hard it is."

Ruth Pologa's son is 15 years old and she has been using the funding to ensure her older children can sit their university exams in peace.

She said either her or her husband might have to take unpaid leave during the summer, because the funding she received had been used for support during lockdown.

"We're just trying to work out how do we spread the support funding over lockdown and the summer holidays.

"Without having some extra tag-team support, I think something will have to give. One of us will have to stop somewhere."

Somerville School principal Belinda Johnston believed no-one had considered the extra impact lockdown had on families as disability issues often fell through the cracks.

The specialist school principal said parents have used funding that often lasts a year, in a matter of weeks.

"It's just to enable them to survive and get enough people in the home to help them survive through the 24/7 experience for someone that might need one-to-one supervision every minute of the day."

She said those with additional needs might have more behavioural problems while in lockdown due to being out of their normal routine.

In a statement, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said the ministry recognised the challenges of supporting a family member with a disability, but it would not be increasing the payment.

"Since the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in 2020, the ministry has introduced greater flexibility in the way funding can be used across many of our disability services including carer support.

"In addition the carer support subsidy has increased in the current financial year from $76 to $80 per day."

Disability Action spokesperson Bernette Peters said it was simply not enough.

"It's not based on what life is like in lockdown. So when you add a couple of dollars to that, it is not actually increasing the carer support days, it is just increasing the payment the carer gets on that day."

Angela Hood's petition has so far received more than 1500 signatures.

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