Budget targets funding at special needs

Increased funding for specialist programmes for children with autism is included in this year's Budget. Photo: Bernard Hickey

It may be Steven Joyce’s first Budget, but the increased spending it includes on support and services for children with special needs is directly related to Bill English’s social investment approach.

In his pre-Budget speech earlier this month to Business NZ, English announced $34.7 million in new funding to pay for specialist services for an extra 1,000 children with behaviour problems, as well as $6m for children with communication challenges.

The funding will pay for specialist education staff including educational psychologists to work with children aged 8 and under who have behavioural challenges. The “Reducing Barriers to Oral Language” funding will pay for speech and language therapists to work at early education centres in low socio-economic areas, using a new “internationally evidenced” oral language programme targeted at 3 and 4 year olds.

Everyone benefits, and all the children in a class learn better, when the children with special needs are supported, English said in his speech.

Today’s Budget also includes $15.5m to pay for more teacher aides.

At current pay rates that will fund teacher aides for an extra 625 students a year, on the basis of each child receiving five hours of dedicated support each week. The Government says this means it will have “fulfilled its pledge to roll out in-class support to 4,000 students” by 2019. However, pressure is growing for a pay bump for poorly-paid school support staff, including aides, following the Government’s pay equity agreement with care and disability support workers.

Another $4.2m will be spent extending a support programme for parents and teachers of children with autism.

The “Incredible Years” programme seeks to help autistic children aged 2 to 5 years with socialisation and emotional regulation. The Government says the programme, delivered by trained staff, has been successful at improving children’s social skills and behaviour and decreasing parents’ anxiety.

The oral language, behavioural challenges and autism programmes all rely on specialist, trained staff and reflect the move to targeting spending at the early years of children most at need.

Reflecting this approach, the Government is also funding 11 new special education satellite units at schools around the country. These units, based at mainstream schools, are satellites of special education schools, providing specialist education for children with moderate to severe disabilities.

A further $35.49 m over four years is budgeted for early children education services and Kohanga reo with children “at greater risk of educational underachievement due to disadvantage”, and, reflecting the surge in migration, $9.36 m over the next two years is budgeted for funding schools to provide specialised support to the growing number of children with English as a second language.