Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

Children & Youth:

Early Childhood Education for Children with Disabilities in New Zealand

By Lesley Adams, Manager New Zealand CCS, North Taranaki and
Pat Hanley, National Policy Manager, New Zealand CCS, Wellington

There have been significant changes in New Zealand over the past decade in the development and delivery of Early Intervention Programmes. This year has seen the formation of The Early Intervention Association of Aotearoa New Zealand* and the first National Early Intervention Conference.

The approach for Early Intervention in New Zealand is family focused, meaning that the services will focus on the child within the context of the Parent/Whanau/Caregiver* in the wider context of the community. It is based on partnership between the service providers and the Parent/Whanau/ Caregiver. The intent is to adopt the least intrusive model of intervention from all service providers.

Progress over 10 years

Looking back over the past ten years, we have made significant changes within our Education System. In 1988-89 a new direction for managing education in New Zealand was introduced, known as Tomorrow's Schools which moved schools towards a system of self-management with less direction from the Ministry of Education. However the needs of students with disabilities or special needs were not addressed by Tomorrow's Schools. The 1989 Education Act did however give legislative commitment to the rights of every child to enroll in a regular school and to receive a regular education. This Act and the Human Rights Act prohibit schools from discriminating on the grounds of disability. Even with this legislation, discrimination continued and resulted in some schools becoming "magnet schools" for students with special needs. These magnet schools increased services to children with disabilities while other schools made little effort to provide an appropriate learning environment for learners with disabilities.

New special education policy

During the early 1990's significant work was undertaken to develop a specific policy to address the needs of students with disabilities and special needs. This work resulted in the "Special Education 2000" Policy. The implementation of this robust policy began in 1997 with an expectation that it would be completed by the year 2000.

The aims of this policy are:
* To improve educational opportunities and outcomes for children with special needs in the early childhood and school sectors
* To ensure there is a clear, consistent and predictable resourcing framework for special education and
* To provide equitable resourcing for those with similar needs irrespective of school setting or geographic location

Whilst a significant part of the policy deals with resourcing issues, contestability has been introduced and with it a degree of choice for the consumer.

New service patterns

In the Early Childhood area this has resulted in funding moving from a single provider to a number of service providers, including non-governmental organisational, becoming accredited to provide specialist support services. The funding for Early Intervention Programmes within Early Childhood is in two parts, the first is to cover the "specialist services" which includes Early Intervention Teachers, Speech Language Therapists, Psychologists and Advisors of the Deaf, whilst the Paraprofessional or direct support is funded separately. This resourcing in Early Childhood is based on the child's support needs with regard to accessing the Early Childhood Curriculum. The resourcing applies only to educational support needs while other therapy services are funded through health.

Initially, this contestibility of funding resulted in a degree of 'patch protection' amongst providers, now 18 months later, service providers in most areas are working more closely and parents are feeling empowered to make choices based on their children's needs.

Early Intervention programmes are based around the child's Individual Development Plan (IDP). This plan is developed following an assessment often using Assessment Tools such as Carolina, Assessment, Evaluation and Programming Systems (AEPS) and the Hawaii Early Learning Programme (HELP). The assessment information is gathered from all who are involved with the child including family members. On completion of the assessment, an IDP meeting is convened. This is the family's meeting and they decide who should attend. From this meeting a plan is developed with responsibilities and timeframes identified. If the child is attending an Early Childhood facility the staff will usually be involved and will have specific areas that they will be working on which may relate to language development, socialisation or any other aspect of the curriculum. The crucial aim of these plans is to ensure that all children are fully included in all aspects of the Early Childhood programme.

Holistic needs

Developments in New Zealand in early intervention and education have seen progress towards focusing on the holistic needs of the child. There is acknowledgement of the rights of children with disabilities to access mainstream education alongside their non-disabled peers, and a team approach bringing together, not only teachers, therapists and para- professionals, but also parents and caregivers as critical to improving learning outcomes for children with disabilities.  The system is perhaps unduly bureaucratic and complex but that reflects the early stages of these developments.  There are also real problems in matching resources with needs and meeting the need for workforce training in order to deliver quality services.  A further challenge is to deliver quality services to rural and remote low population communities and within different ethnic groups particularly where there are so few trained staff able to work across cultures.

November, 1999

*Aotearoa is the original Maori name for New Zealand
*Whanau is the term used for the traditional kinship-based personal and family support network, which continues to play a significant role in child-rearing and in society.

(A condensed version of this article appeared in "One in Ten", No.20/1999)

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