Families ‘forced to lie’ for disabled aid.

John Elder

The Sunday Age,

News p.8

March 21, 2004

Services for the disabled are on the point of disintegration, with more than 3000 Victorian families waiting for supported residential accommodation for their children, according to disability advocacy groups.

Despite a 50 per cent rise in State Government funding, the Service Needs Register - essentially a waiting list for accommodation - has virtually stalled, the groups say.

They say the register has become a joke because exhausted families, on the point of breaking down, need to "sell" their situation as one of crisis - which often means portraying their relationship with their disabled children as abusive or at risk of turning abusive - just to get an "urgent" ranking on the list.

"You have to humiliate yourself to get heard," says Jenni Sewell of PINARC, a Ballarat disability service agency with 500 people on its books.

"Many families aren't bothering to get on the Service Needs Register because there's no point. It's not moving," says Margaret Ryan of the Disability Network, a lobby group that last year staged monthly protests at Parliament House. "Most people have no idea how difficult it is for families to get help in Victoria. Services are spread so thinly. Literally hundreds of families are falling apart and thousands of people are living in despair."

Many of those in crisis are elderly people caring for their middle-aged children who require 24-hour support. They have no idea what will happen to those adult children after they die. "We have parents in their 60s and 70s caring for children in their 40s and early 50s. You're talking about grown children who need their nappies changed... who have no survival skills whatsoever," says Ms Sewell

The Disability Network statistics show that last December, 5070 disabled people were in supported shared accommodation - group homes supervised at all times - and 3193 were waiting for a place, 1178 listed as urgent. "So for every 10 beds already occupied, there are six people waiting for a vacancy,' ' says Ryan.

The Bracks Government has boosted funding for disability services by $270 million since 1999 including a pledge of $77 million over four years in last May's budget. "But there's only been 6 per cent increase in the number of people getting residential places - which translates to 281 additional beds," says Ms Ryan.

A representative of Community Services Minister Sherryl Garbutt said: "The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates there will be a 50 per cent increase in the number of people with a severe or disability over the next 10 years. The Bracks Government recognises the increasing demands for disability services and we are taking action to address these pressures."