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Treasury funding advice discriminates against children with additional needs

NZEI Te Riu Roa and IHC have said they were shocked to discover that Treasury advised the Government to scale back funding for children with additional needs, “knowing this would mean thousands of children staying on waiting lists for learning support”.

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant says this confirms IHC’s position that children with disabilities experience discrimination due to government systems and structures that place insufficient value on students who require additional support to learn.

“The advice from Treasury devalues the lives of disabled children by deliberately underfunding what they need for equitable access to learning and participation in school life on the same basis as their non-disabled peers,” says Ms Grant.

“How is it okay for official government advice to deliberately and knowingly create hardship?

“It seems extraordinarily short-sighted for Treasury to make a recommendation that limits individuals’ ability to learn, become successful and contribute to our society and economy.”

Both organisations say there is an urgent need to introduce a mechanism to automatically adjust learning support funding for population growth and projected need.

“The fact that there is no mechanism to increase funding for Learning Support services in response to increased student roll growth, let alone need, is fundamentally discriminatory and has led to a rationing of services, increased waiting lists and reduced service levels,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart.

She says children and their whānau are crying out for help, and continued underfunding has serious implications for their learning.

“Our psychologists, therapists, early intervention teachers and other specialist staff members and Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) say their caseloads are already unmanageable,” says Mrs Stuart.

“We know that outcomes are better if children are helped earlier.”

A recent NZEI Te Riu Roa survey found almost three-quarters of SENCOs say it’s difficult to help children requiring additional support within a reasonable timeframe.

One principal recently told NZEI Tiu Roa that a child in his school had waited a year to get specialist help.

The NZEI Te Riu Roa survey is consistent with surveys done by IHC and other family membership organisations – that access to specialist advice is difficult, and waiting lists are long.

Treasury advised that the Early Intervention Service be only funded at a level that would halve, but not remove, the waiting list for the growing number of children needing this support. It appears the Ministry of Education had argued for a return to 2007 levels of service.

IHC has long maintained that the resourcing levels should reflect actual need.

“This government in opposition stressed that the learning support system is “broken” and based on flawed funding assumptions,” says Ms Grant.

“Now we find that not only is this the problem, but that the unnecessary hardship experienced by children with disabilities because of long waiting lists is intentional.”

IHC’s litigation under Part 1A of the Human Rights Act asserts that disabled students continue to experience unlawful discrimination despite efforts by successive governments to address the systemic problems.

Roughly 1,700 people have already signed an NZEI Te Riu Roa petition to the Finance Minister Grant Robertson saying that children with additional needs cannot wait for help.

Ms Grant says the advice to Minister Robertson confirms institutional bias against children with disabilities.

“This not only results in unlawful discrimination, but lifelong disadvantages due to long waiting lists for specialists and in-class support to give these children what they need to learn,” says Ms Grant.

“It’s unacceptable, unfair and violates disabled children’s rights to a fair deal.”

NZEI’s full analysis of the Treasury advice can be read here.

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