Vanessa and Edward Frey with Thomas, 1, and Jacob, 5.
Vanessa and Edward Frey with Thomas, 1, and Jacob, 5.

Parents self-fund son's prep carer

A YOUNG couple, who fear for their son's safety and well-being, plan to pay a carer to take him to class when he starts school in January.

Inglewood couple Vanessa and Edward Frey have committed to spending $6000 of their own money so their five-year-old son Jacob can spend a day a week in a state school prep class.

But it is not the school or teachers or even other students that they believe will put their child at risk, but a combination of medical issues and a serious funding shortfall by Education Queensland.

Jacob has been diagnosed with autism, is vision impaired and suffers multiple life-threatening food allergies and according to his parents requires constant and careful supervision.

But to the Freys' frustration Education Queensland see their son's case differently.

“The government has allocated Jacob just three hours of one-on-one teacher's aide time a week,” Mrs Frey said.

“As his parents we know that is just not enough to ensure he is safe at school.

“If Jacob doesn't have assistance in the classroom it will be too hard for his teacher.

“It will be too hard for his classmates and it will impact on their ability to learn as well as Jacob's safety and well-being.”

Devastated by what they describe as “seriously inadequate funding from EQ” the Freys have vowed to pay an experienced carer $25 per hour to supervise their son so he can join his peers for a day a week.

They say it is their only option if they want to stay in their hometown, more than 100km from the nearest specialised early childhood development centre in Warwick.

“The early childhood teachers and principal at Inglewood State School have been incredibly supportive and encouraging about Jacob starting prep,” Mrs Frey said.

“They have gone out of their way to help us, but they just aren't supported by government funding.

“It seems ironic the Education Department can build new multi-purpose sheds at every school in the country, but they can't fund teacher aide hours for a little boy who needs help and support.”

EQ Darling Downs regional director Gregory Dickman said his department allocated resources for special education programs and services directly to regional areas.

“Regions are responsible for this distribution to enable greater flexibility to respond to local needs,” Mr Dickman said.

“All state school principals are responsible for the effective use of resources provided to support the educational program of every student.”

Mr Dickman said in cases where children had severe food allergies and other medical conditions schools relied on the guidance of the student's medical practitioner to create individual health plans.

“Where required principals will provide education and implement procedures to minimise the risk for students,” he said.

“In addition to the role schools play, it is important to note the role parents play in educating their children with regard to food allergies and the correct food choices.”

Minister for Education and Training Geoff Wilson added his weight to EQ's case in a letter to the Freys in October assuring them Jacob's needs would be addressed at school.

“The (Inglewood) school's proactive stance in planning for Jacob's special requirements will ensure that Jacob's needs are appropriately catered for and compensate for any actual reduction in actual teacher aide time”.

But his comments have failed to reassure the Freys.

For the couple the lack of funding support for Jacob to start school is just another example of the Queensland Government failing families of children with special needs.

“Since Jacob was born we have worked relentlessly to access therapy to help him reach his full potential,” Mr Frey said.

“We have been to Sydney to see specialists, we have travelled to Warwick fortnightly for three years for early intervention, and we visit occupational therapists each week in Stanthorpe or Toowoomba.

“We have done whatever we can to help Jacob's development; we just need help now so he can go to school safely.”

For retired Warwick special education expert Marceline Dwan the dilemma of how best to support special needs pupils has been an ongoing issue.

The local teacher, who spent more than 20 years working in early childhood development and intervention, said the health and well-being of special needs students was paramount.

“How schools allocate funding to support students has been a long-running issue,” she said.

“Assessments prior to grade one often identify the educational needs and support requirements of special needs children, which help schools develop individualised support programs.”

Another Warwick parent of a child with autism said the fight for adequate classroom funding was a parental “nightmare”.

“Your child can be properly diagnosed, you can have statements from experienced teachers supporting your case for more funding and still struggle,” the mother, who did not wish to be named, said.

“Three hours per week for a special needs prep student seems to be the standard Education Queensland amount.

“Yet our children are meant to be at prep for 30 hours per week. So in reality it is not a lot of one-on-one time.

“But EQ defends it saying special needs kids can become dependent on their aide, when they should be becoming independent.

“The fact is as a parent you want the best for your own child in terms of help, but you also want to do the right thing by your child's teacher and their classmates.

“You don't want having your child in a prep class to be detrimental to everyone else.”

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