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Silverlea in crisis

Friday, 1st March, 2019

Silverlea early childhood services Silverlea early childhood services

By Craig Brealey

Broken Hill’s own Silverlea school for children with intellectual disabilities might close within weeks because it cannot get government funding.

Its request for an emergency grant has yet to be met and it is now reduced to having to put the “begging bowl” before the public. 

“Silverlea is the only service in the Far West,” said Diana Ferry, chair of the Silverlea Early Childhood Services board.

“Our main priority is occupational therapy, speech and physiotherapy, but above all speech and behavioural services,” Ms Ferry said.

“The children’s needs have not gone away, but our funding has gone away.

“We face the real prospect of losing Silverlea after 58 years if there is no immediate support.

“We have about six weeks before we have to make that painful decision.”

Last year the NSW government cut Silverlea’s annual block funding of $210,000 and it has been unable to get any money from the federal government.

The National Disabilities Insurance Scheme, that was introduced last July, was supposed to replace the state funding but instead of the money going to providers like Silverlea, it is paid to the child’s parents. 

There are 20 children, eight years old and under, at Silverlea and that means the income from the NDIS is only about $18,000 a year. It also has two full-time staff to pay.

“We don’t have the scale in the Far West to operate in the NDIS environment,” Ms Ferry said.

To get any money parents have to deal with the NDIS and negotiate a “plan” for their child, and sometimes the child does not even qualify for help. 

Ms Ferry said having to deal with the NDIS was a nightmare.

“Its complexity, long drawn-out timeframes and changing goal posts means it takes a long time to get an NDIS plan and some children fall through the gaps,” said Ms Ferry.

“Because some people don’t qualify for the NDIS we are still trying to provide for them and they can’t afford to a pay a commercial rate.”

This was costing Silverlea $5000 a month and that was having to come from its “very modest” cash reserves, she said.

Help has been sought from the local State MP, and three weeks ago Silverlea asked Federal MP Mark Coulton to help it obtain $100,000 in emergency funding and to have its $210,000 restored.

Mr Coulton is overseas but his office issued the following statement from him.

“I am aware of financial complications concerning Silverlea Early Childhood Services, and I am continuing to liaise with the office of Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, in relation to this issue,” he said.. 

“My hope would be that we can come to an amicable conclusion for all involved.”

Silverlea was already providing its services to the primary schools, where it integrates children into the mainstream, and now it was trying to raise more money by establishing a day care business, Ms Ferry said.

“The only iron left in the fire is our long day care service. There is an unmet need for that but it also means a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to jump and that takes time. 

“Our modest financial reserves are dwindling while we wait for the bureaucracy to decide.”

The citizens, businesses and clubs have always given generously to Silverlea and Ms Ferry said more support now could prove invaluable.

There are the “wishing wells” at the supermarkets for donations of small change, and people might also run raffles or morning tea fundraisers, she said 

“If we could raise $10,000 it might extend our services for a month to help us get the long day care up and running.

“A hundred thousand dollars could keep us going until the end of the year to give us time to put us on a commercial footing and keep lobbying government for funding.

“The begging bowl is out and we would gratefully accept anything.”

Cash donations may be made at the Broken Hill Community Credit Union or direct to Silverlea at its premises in Rakow Street.

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