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Tuesday, 5th March, 2019

Geoffrey Dunlevy at the age of four at Silverlea. “It’s my favourite reminder of how far he came when he was at Silverlea,” said his mother. “He was so happy and relaxed”. PICTURE: Supplied Geoffrey Dunlevy at the age of four at Silverlea. “It’s my favourite reminder of how far he came when he was at Silverlea,” said his mother. “He was so happy and relaxed”. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

A former local solicitor whose son attended Silverlea says it is the best service of its kind in NSW and allowing it to close would be a tragedy.

Silverlea Early Childhood Services has been helping children with intellectual disabilities for 58 years but could be gone within weeks if the government does not restore its funding.

NSW cut its annual grant of $210,000 last year and the federal government has not replaced it.

Mariette Curcuruto-Dunlevy was the principal solicitor at the Far West Community Legal Centre. Her husband, Geoff, was the magistrate of the Broken Hill Local Court for 10 years until the family left the city just over a year ago.

Their 10-year-old son, Geoffrey, started at Silverlea when he was not yet three and spent three years there receiving occupational, speech and behavioural therapy .

He was diagnosed with autism when he was two by a visiting specialist from the Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Dr Paul Hutchins.

“We were blown away,” Mrs Curcuruto-Dunlevy told the BDT. 

“We said ‘what can we do?’ We were prepared to go anywhere in the state to get help but he said ‘the best place for your son’s needs is Silverlea. Stay here’.

Before Geoffrey entered therapy he had “lost his language”, she said.

“On the first day I took him in he had a single bed sheet that he always took everywhere along with his dinosaur, a dummy and a car that made him feel comfortable and safe.

“An hour and a half later he was sitting there quite comfortably. Within six months he couldn’t wait to get to Silverlea. 

“He would run through the door, he was starting to talk, getting into the class routine, speaking to all the other children. He just loved it.”

Silverlea began teaching Geoffrey to talk by holding a picture of something he might want and encouraging him to ask for it. They also worked on his repetitive behaviour which is a typical trait of autism.

“He used to open and close doors at home all day - and I mean all day - but within about three months he was still doing it, but on a tiny doll’s house.”

Silverlea was also “brilliant” at helping him transition to school, Mrs Curcuruto-Dunlevy said.

“That can be really frightening for a child on the autism spectrum but they held meetings with the school, engaged with the school and worked with Geoffrey.

“It is just such an amazing service, and the staff are so knowledgeable and caring.

“Seeing Geoffrey doing the things other kids were doing was something I could not have imagined. It was the best experience ever. Paul Hutchins was right.”

Mrs Curcuruto-Dunlevy said that what made Silverlea exemplary was its staff and their approach. 

“It’s practical. They deal with the things that are happening on the ground, things that happen every day.”

The family now lives in Tweed Heads where Mr Dunlevy is the magistrate of the Local Court but his wife is still on the Silverlea board.

Silverlea is now funded by the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme at a fraction of what it received from NSW.

The $210,000 from the NSW government could fund up to 27 children but the money from the NDIS was only enough for 10, Mrs Curcuruto-Dunlevy said.

“We were told this would not happen but it has.

“We knew this NDIS was coming so we looked at merging in town and out of town, looked at what we could do at the pre-schools.

“But Broken Hill is so far away and we don’t have the numbers of children to attract enough funding from the NDIS.”

She said the NDIS method of making people apply for a funding “plan” was wholly unsuitable and overly bureaucratic.

“I regard myself as a reasonably intelligent woman but whenever I try to negotiate a plan with them I still get taken by surprise.”

The NDIS’ proposal for teaching children was also completely impractical, she said.

“The idea that you can do early intervention by tele-health is just stupid. There is no substitute for one-on-one teaching.

“I hope our state and federal MPs start listening because only by restoring block funding will it survive.

“Our son was just one of the 1500 to 2000 children that have had that help from Silverlea.

“I don’t see how not having Silverlea in town will work and if it disappears it will be the biggest tragedy ever.

“We owe a lot to Silverlea, we really do. I can’t imagine my son would be the little person he is now without them, and I can’t imagine Broken Hill without Silverlea.”


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