Sib­lings of dis­abled plead for lost fund­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - An­drew McGarry

BUD­GETARY con­sid­er­a­tions and bad tim­ing may have led to the Rudd Gov­ern­ment re­mov­ing sup­port from an of­ten for­got­ten group of Aus­tralians — the broth­ers and sis­ters of those with spe­cial needs.

Sib­lings Aus­tralia is the only or­gan­i­sa­tion of its kind in Aus­tralia pro­vid­ing sup­port, ad­vo­cacy and ad­vice to sib­lings of chil­dren with se­vere dis­abil­i­ties or chronic ill­ness.

For eight years it has been run on a grantto-grant ba­sis, de­pend­ing on var­i­ous sources for its sur­vival, be­fore gain­ing a fi­nan­cial toe­hold in 2007 through 12-month fund­ing from the fed­eral Depart­ment of Health and Age­ing.

Ear­lier this month, how­ever, Sib­lings Aus­tralia founder Kate Strohm was told a re­quest to ex­tend the fund­ing would not be granted, and she has now writ­ten to Prime Min­is­ter Kevin Rudd ask­ing for a re­think to save the Ade­laide-based or­gan­i­sa­tion from likely clo­sure.

DOHA last year ap­proved $130,000 for a year’s worth of projects and Sib­lings Aus­tralia was seek­ing an ex­ten­sion worth $180,000 for the com­ing year. But that was two days into the care­taker pe­riod be­fore the last elec­tion, and the in­com­ing Rudd Gov­ern­ment has now cho­sen other pri­or­i­ties.

Strohm ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at the lack of sup­port be­ing of­fered by author­i­ties.

‘‘ We seem to be the last in, first out in terms of fund­ing. No­body in gov­ern­ment takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for sib­lings, it’s just not on the agenda.’’

There are an es­ti­mated 200,000 peo­ple un­der the age of 25 with a se­vere or pro­found dis­abil­ity or chronic ill­ness, plus many more who have a men­tal ill­ness. All fam­ily mem­bers are af­fected, and sib­lings can grow up with a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on life than their peers.

Strohm says sib­lings of chil­dren with spe­cial needs of­ten lacked the cog­ni­tive and emo­tional ma­tu­rity to deal with their feel­ings, but the ef­fect did not end with adult­hood.

‘‘ For sib­lings, the im­pact is a life­long thing,’’ Strohm said. ‘‘ It’s not just the ef­fects on kids of grow­ing up with a dis­abled or chron­i­cally ill brother or sis­ter, there are is­sues later in life of age­ing par­ents or car­ers and the ex­pec­ta­tion that they (sib­lings) will take over. Most of them want to, but they need sup­port to do that.’’

Strohm, whose sis­ter has cere­bral palsy, es­ti­mates the or­gan­i­sa­tion has been able to help up to 1000 peo­ple na­tion­wide through di­rect con­tact, emails and the chat net­work on the Sib­lings Aus­tralia web­site.

‘‘ We don’t say fed­eral or state gov­ern

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