Siblings of disabled plead for lost funding
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