Disability Services Minister Paul Omodei has appealed to anyone knowing of children suffering from excessive burdens of care in their families to contact the Disability Services Commission or other appropriate Government agency.
“There are programs to assist in such cases and we want to hear about them,” Mr Omodei said.
At the same time, the Minister said Western Australia was not facing an epidemic of children bound up in caring for disabled parents or siblings at the expense of their own education and social development.
“There are many young people involved in caring roles in their families, but we believe it is not at the expense of their own development,” he said.
“In its 1998 survey ‘Disabilities, Ageing and Carers’, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that there were 18,500 such carers under 18, but they were all identified as ‘not a primary carer’.
“A primary carer is defined by the ABS as a person who provides the most informal assistance, in terms of help or supervision, to a person with one or more disabilities. The assistance has to be ongoing, or likely to be ongoing for at least six months and be provided for one or more of the core activities which are communication, mobility and self-care.
“The ABS survey estimated that the number of people under 18 and between 18 and 24 who were primary carers was so small as to be statistically unreliable and therefore not publishable.
“The ABS information confirms the practical experience of the Disability Services Commission, Family and Children’s Services, the Health Department, the Education Department, and the host of non-Government agencies involved with families where sickness, disability, or dysfunction cause ongoing problems.
“All of them are conscious of the need to ensure that children do not suffer as a result of assisting with care within their families.
“Children, particularly teenagers, make a very positive contribution to the care of siblings or parents in time of sickness and disability, but I think most of them would reject the notion that this constitutes deprivation or suffering.
“Strengthening families in their caring role is a major component of the Government’s approach to people with disabilities and that includes support for young people.
“Over the next two years, DSC alone has allocated $7.55 million of growth funds (State and Federal) to provide respite and family care for an additional 780 families.
“New initiatives include Flexible Family Support packages($1.4 million to 2002) to provide early intervention to prevent crisis and maintain family well-being, and Intensive Family Support ($3.9 million to 2002) for families with an urgent need for support or respite.
“These amounts are additional to existing recurrent funding to families and non-Government agencies for respite and family support.
“The DSC budget is currently $167 million and will rise to $200 million a year by the end of the current five-year business plan ‘Making a Difference’.
“Despite the multi-agency involvement in this field, it is possible that unsatisfactory situations remain undisclosed and anyone who is aware of children genuinely suffering from excessive caring roles is urged to contact DSC or another relevant Government agency.
“The Government is also considering a research project to determine whether there is an unmet need in this aspect of family and community life.
“If it reveals the need for additional services, they will be provided.”
Media contact: Hugh Ryan 9213 6700