Special needs report urges government for more funding

By Sarah Harris

Jazzy Winikerei, Tyson Winikerei, Darren Winikerei, Brenda Winikerei with Issac Winikerei who holds a picture of Cleo Winikerei.​ Photo / Supplied
Jazzy Winikerei, Tyson Winikerei, Darren Winikerei, Brenda Winikerei with Issac Winikerei who holds a picture of Cleo Winikerei.​ Photo / Supplied

A mother of two special needs children says sending your child to school feels more like babysitting than an education.

A YouthLaw report released today urges the government to increase funding to the special needs education sector.

The report outlines issues like teachers not getting enough specialised training, not enough one-on-one hours available for students and schools not measuring progress enough to support special needs students

Kerikeri-based Brenda Winikerei said she has come up against almost every issue the report outlines.

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She currently looks after two children with special needs.

She also had a daughter Cleo who suffered from dyspraxia and passed away last year aged 17.

Her son Tyson, 19, is classified with moderate autism spectrum disorder and she looks after 6-year-old Issac with behavioural issues.

Issac was taken by CYFS from his biological family and given to Winikerei's sister and brother in law. After they passed away Winikerei became Issac's caregiver.

"So he's on his third family. That should be taken into consideration. He's had a really rough start to life."

Winikerei said that the key to fulfilling her children's education potential is one-on-one support.

But there isn't enough funding for adequate hours. Tyson gets around seven hours a week and Issac doesn't qualify for any.

"Sometimes it feels that schools, not through their own fault, kind of babysit them as best they can without their education being a priority.

"Because he doesn't demand attention it seems unfair his education isn't pushed more or encouraged through increased support hours."

Winikerei said more support needs to be directed at the beginning of a child's education journey.

"If you can get on top of those kinds of behaviours early it can make it easier for the rest of school life. But if you don't it can go on and on."

The report's principal author Kenton Starr said the biggest issue is that there's not enough funding to provide adequate support for special needs youth.

The Government currently invests around $590 million per year in specialist education services.

Schools all receive a base grant of $1422 and then a variable amount of $38 to $75 per student depending on the decile. Starr said this money is typically used to fund teacher aides but it rarely covers additional training and release time.

The report recommends changes to legislation and policy, increased funding for more teacher aide hours and release time so teachers can complete further training.

IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant said the report is outstanding at identifying the barriers and remedies.

"What stands out for me with the report is that it describes the complexity well. There's no one issue and no simplistic 'fits all' in this situation.

"If we are going to make a significant change then we need to make a significant investment."

Grant agrees that schools need more funding for release time to enable professional development for teachers to educate special needs children.

"Schools gets strapped for cash when they've got to pay for the relief time."

Grant also calls for more data to be collected to determine how many children need additional learning support and the complexity of their needs.

Starr, who works as a solicitor for YouthLaw, said the parents he sees are often in despair.

If the report's recommendations were used it would give the parents hope Starr said.

"The first response would be a sense of relief and hope, the possibility of a future for their kids.

"It'd be really big deal for them."

Starr said the term special needs can account for 5 to 30 per cent of the total school population depending on your definition of special needs.

- NZ Herald

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