Special Needs Students WILL be Affected by Changes to the NSW Assisted School Travel Program
Long ago, when I was working outside the home and trying to juggle the needs of three kids, I relied on transport assistance to get Gilbert to his special education settings.
The NSW Assisted School Travel Program helped transport Gilbert to preschool at RIDBC Hunter and then to the Hunter School for Children with Autism, while I was working and struggling to get all the kids off to their respective daycare settings.
Between the ages of 3 and 7, he was taken care of by some beautiful souls who, always, always, put his welfare first.
I will be forever grateful to Debbie, Stacey, Mary, Jeanette and Kim for their careful transport of my boy, at such a tender age. It was hard to put my trust in them in the beginning, but I always knew they would look after him and they would bring him home again, safe and sound.
Which is why I’m sharing this story, from a friend of mine, who has been looking after students with special needs, just like those who looked after Gilbert, for four years now.
Despite four years of dedicated service, they, and many other drivers, have not been re-engaged by the Department of Education this year, due to cost-cutting and efficiency reasons.
While all departments are looking for savings, I support my friend, who points out some home truths below.
If you are the parent of a special needs student who accesses the NSW Assisted School Travel Program, please take the time to read and share.
Even better, lobby your local member to get this decision reviewed.
Because the welfare of these students are not at the heart of this decision – the bottom line is. And we all know what happens when cost cutting is put before students.
For a number of years the NSW Department of Education has been providing a funded service for students with special needs to be transported to and from school safely.
In 2017 that service has been drastically slashed. I have been informed that across NSW around 700 – yes think about that – 700 “runs” have been abolished. In the Lower Hunter Valley alone I am told the number is around 26. My run has been one of them.
Many of these runs have people on them called ATSO’s – Assisted Transport Safety Officers. Their role is to sit with the children and make sure their run is safe and that any medical or safety issues are sorted out whilst the driver concentrates on their journey. These ATSO’s are employed by the NSW Department of Education and surprisingly, or not-so-surprisingly, they are paid less than the drivers, despite having to have some medical training provided to them and first aid certificates.
As a driver for a local service for four years, I got to know dozens of students from a local school and their parents, and as a team of drivers we worked on strategies to ensure that the students were transported to and from their school in a safe, effective manner. It worked well, with few issues and parents who were grateful and happy with how the service was provided.
I have a fear that all our good work is about to be undone by short-sighted penny-pinching from bureaucrats in Wollongong who have no idea which child needs what special attention.
And it’s going to end in tears.
I have been a carer for a disabled person for 26 years. I understand that there are funding problems in any sort of government service, but we are talking about the most vulnerable in our society – disabled children who cannot fight for their rights alone and rely on adults to take a stand on their behalf.
A driver I spoke to today has been given a new run with eight students. Previously she had four. Her students have behavioural issues and many of them lack the ability to concentrate for a long time. When she sat down to plan her schedule, she realised that for some of her students, this would mean a school day of more than nine hours. Her day now starts before 7am for her first pickup and afternoon drop-off finishes just after 5pm. Can you imagine how tired and frustrated these children are going to be and how much of an issue this could be for their parents or care-givers?
My previous run had three students in an 11-seater bus. This was necessary as one student could be aggressive and hated anyone being near his space. He is now going to be in a bus with many other children. His parents have been warned that he is on his final warning for transport – if something happens then he is expelled from the run. This is not the child’s fault: it is the fault of the lack of foresight from pencil-pushers inside the NSW Department of Education.
I strongly urge all parents of special needs children to call their local school, the NSW Department of Education, their local members of parliament, and voice their concerns to their representatives. People power will always win.
We have to win… for our childrens’ sake.
Does your child use the NSW Assisted School Travel Program? Will they be affected by these changes?