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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 2883 ..

Children with Disabilities - Summer Programs

MS McRAE: My question is directed to Mr Stefaniak, the Minister for Education and Training. I believe that the Secretary to the Department of Education and Training met with the parents from Malkara this morning and apologised for the way in which the Government has mishandled the whole question of the holiday program. Are you also planning to apologise? Will you explain to the Assembly precisely what arrangements have now been put in place to reassure parents that there will be a holiday program which will not endanger their own and other people's children, which they can afford and which will very belatedly be developed in consultation with the parents?

MR STEFANIAK: I thank the member for the question. In relation to this matter, the department perhaps acted a little bit too close to the event. That has certainly been made known by Ms Vardon and by me to the parents. What is being put in place, or has been put in place over the last few weeks, is a very good program to ensure the safety of the children. In fact, the main reason the department was concerned about the Malkara program - and it has stressed this to me on a number of occasions - was concerns about safety.

As I indicated earlier, we have 60 places at about 10 different centres in Canberra for people who would normally use the old Malkara program. Apart from simply meeting with, I think, four parents today, Ms Vardon also, as of yesterday, sent out her own letter to all parents in relation to the summer holiday program. That advises all parents, including those who had been advised by the department earlier, through the schools, the special schools, and the focus programs people in the department, that places will be provided in the community organisations in Canberra for the 1996 holiday program and that efforts will be made by the department to ensure that the individual needs of each child are looked after in terms of additional support, because some of these people, as Ms McRae well knows, need additional support.

One of the main reasons for having 10 different areas in Canberra is ease of transport for parents. No doubt some parents will be keen to avail themselves of that. Obviously, others will need transport for their child. We have also set up a hotline for parents to ring. Ms Vardon has indicated to parents that she is quite happy for them to ring her after hours. The hotline number is 2059190. As well, I have ensured that at the end of the program the department will do an evaluation with the parents to see how it all went and what improvements can be made.

A number of parents have expressed to officers in my department their pleasure that an integration program is being put in place. One suggested, I am advised, that this should have been done two years ago. I am looking forward to a very good program. I have also indicated to a couple of parents that I have spoken to that, if they have any further concerns, I am happy for them to contact me. As I said, I think last week, I am looking forward to a very good program. We will have evaluation with all parents at the end of it. The parents involved and the children involved will have an excellent time in this summer program.

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