A Copacabana family is one of thousands affected by a child’s hearing loss likely to benefit from an overhaul of the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s (NDIS) eligibility processes.
According to The Shepherd Centre CEO, Dr Jim Hungerford, 50 per cent of Australian hearing impaired children currently miss out on crucial specialist early intervention services.
The Shepherd Centre is a NSW based not for profit organisation specialising in early intervention to help children who are deaf or hearing-impaired develop spoken language skills.
Since its foundation, The Shepherd Centre has opened a whole new world of sound for more than 2,000 children, including the world of 5-month-old, Heath Hurrell, from Copacabana.
Dr Hungerford said the overhaul was a result of recent consultations between families affected by hearing loss, experts in the sector, and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), with the NDIA choosing to implement a new approach to improve access to support via the NDIS.
The key feature of the new approach is a nationally consistent eligibility criteria that ensures all young children with significant permanent hearing loss can access the NDIS.
Previously, the eligibility criteria varied from state to state, and sometimes even by location.
An Australia wide rapid referral pathway that makes it possible for children to receive an NDIS funded plan within three weeks of the families’ first appointment with Australian Hearing is required.
This is crucial, as early intervention therapy must start by six months of age to prevent long term language delay.
Following the initial phase of the NDIS rollout, many children had to wait until 18 months of age before their services were funded.
Another feature is an appropriate level of initial ‘first plan’ funding that is sufficient for the specialist services children with hearing loss require.
This will prevent the continued use of a ‘one size fits all’ funding approach, with the new system’s ability to offer tailored funding for each child’s individual needs.
The Hurrell family have been accessing The Shepherd Centre’s early intervention services via the scheme after the NDIS recognised their eligibility and processed a plan when Heath, who was born with mild-moderate deafness in both ears, was just a few weeks old.
Mum, Katharine Hurrell, said the ease of access to the NDIS was incredibly helpful at a time when the family was still processing Heath’s diagnosis.
“We didn’t really know how much we would need NDIS funding and I believe that without this, we would not be able to access The Shepherd Centre’s services and support, which have already been life changing for Heath and our family,” said Katharine Hurrell.
Dr Hungerford said the changes to the NDIS approach mark a new era in access for Australian children with hearing loss, and their families.
“By addressing these funding problems with the new approach, Aussie families like the Hurrell’s can now access the right support, at the right time,” said Dr Hungerford.
“These changes will enable more children than ever to reach their full potential.
“People deserve to have equal opportunities to make their dreams come true, regardless of disability,” he said.
Deafness is the most common disability among children in the western world.
It costs almost $16,000 per year per child to provide these essential services.
The Shepherd Centre relies on government support and fundraising to help the more than 500 families who turn to them each year and close the gap in access to these critical services.
Media release, Apr 10
Maya Ivanovic, Palin Communications