Thousands of dedicated parents and carers sent their special needs children back to school in Victoria this month, angry at the lack of education and services provided during lockdown.
Parent Joanne Madaffari sais she was outraged by the “poor handling” of special needs services and education during the Covid restrictions.
“All of my son Andrew’s services were cut off. My 18-year-old wasn’t given the opportunity of an education for 62 days,” Ms Madaffari said.
Home learning was difficult in these circumstances as many parents such as Ms Madaffari whose children have autism were unable to educate through home learning.
“They were definitely at a disadvantage,” she said.
Sunshine Special Development School teacher Sonia Psarianos said she understood Ms Madaffari’s frustrations, as every time the Education Department were on the news “special needs were never mentioned”.
“We did what we could as teachers for the parents, but the Education Department didn’t,” Ms Psarianos said.
There are more than 80 specialist needs schools in Victoria, with many of the students unable to learn from home due to the severity of their disabilities.
“Kids were confused,” Ms Psarianos said.
Ms Madaffari said she wanted to spread awareness as much as she could while raising her son and taking care of her family.
“People with a disability are really hidden in society,” she said.
Ms Madaffari’s story began when she “struggled to feel a connection” with her son after he was diagnosed with autism at two years old.
In 2004, the Royal Children’s Hospital Early Intervention Department piloted the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program, which works on that connection.
“Seeing the children blossom is so beautiful to watch,” Ms Madaffari said.
This, she said, is what pushed her to begin her time there as a mentor. She has now spent 16 years helping parents who were struggling to connect to their children.
Moonee Valley City Council in 2018 named her as nominated Carer for Carers Week. She has continued to contribute and support programs including Autism Australia, Surfers Healing, and Carers Australia.