Lack of services for disabled children tearing families apart
Adele Horin, smh
April 12, 2008
AT LEAST 22 children with intellectual and physical disabilities have been abandoned in short-term respite care for up to two years after their parents refused to pick them up, an inquiry into the state's child protection system has been told.
A senior manager in the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Carolyn Burlew, said respite was supposed to be short-term, "but what we are finding is that a small number of children are being put into respite and not taken home."
In July last year, six children aged 10-12, eight children aged 13-15, and eight children aged 16-17 were living permanently in a respite centre and blocking beds other families needed for short-term care, the inquiry was told yesterday.
However, the disability department came under fire for its apparent failure to respond to the needs of parents, forcing some to abandon their profoundly disabled children.
The head of the State Government-appointed Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services, Justice James Wood, said parents tried their very best to manage children with complex disabilities but if they did not get the support needed they faced the "terrible dilemma of either reporting their child to the Department of Community Services for being at risk of harm or abandoning them in respite or hospital because they cannot cope".
Justice Wood said the inquiry had heard of a number of parents in the position of Sharon Guest and Stuart Neal, whose story was told in the Herald yesterday, having to give up temporary care of a profoundly disabled child to DOCS because the disabilities department had failed to provide appropriate services.
Justice Wood, and counsel assisting the inquiry, Gail Furness, pressed Ms Burlew, a deputy director general (service development) and her colleague, Lauren Murray, executive director (community access), about the disability department's lack of group home options for children under 12. Ms Burlew said all services for children with disabilities were aimed at keeping the family together.
"Any situation where a child has to leave a home-based environment is a tragedy," she said.
The co-chief executive of People with Disability Australia, Therese Sands, said the group supported the policy of keeping children in the family but there needed to be other options, including small group homes.
Ms Guest and Mr Neal had wanted the disability department to place their five-year-old daughter, Jessie, in a group home close to their house in Randwick for half the week. She suffered a rare genetic condition that caused developmental delay, hearing loss, hyper-activity and huge sleep disturbance.
But because group home care was counter to the department's policy, the couple eventually abandoned their child in hospital, causing her to be reported to DOCS, which placed her in a group home in Newcastle.