Early intervention service wait times for children have skyrocketed

The National Party is accusing the Government of dropping the ball around early intervention services for children with additional needs, with the average wait time up significantly on 2017.

Documents obtained by Newshub reveal the waiting time on average is now 106 days. The average wait time for an appointment in the 2016/17 financial year was 71 days.

According to the Ministry of Education website, early intervention services include psychologists, speech language therapists, advisors for deaf children, educational support workers and Māori cultural advisors.

National's Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis told Newshub the Government hasn't delivered.

"This will be incredibly disappointing for families who know their children need extra help but are waiting months and months for much needed specialist support. The Prime Minister said she'll make children her priority but the Government is clearly letting these children down," she said.

Wellington has the country's longest wait time - 178 days.

Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast have the lowest average wait time of 47 days.

Early intervention service wait times for children have skyrocketed
Photo credit: Newshub.

In May 2018, the Government announced it would invest $21.5 million over four years into learning support. Another $272,000 will be spent on the IT costs associated with hiring additional staff.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time the funding would ensure that nearly 8000 more children would receive support.

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said the extra funding is expected to halve the current wait list for services and help meet future demand pressures.

But Willis says they didn't have a proper plan in place to deliver their promises.

"It needs a plan in place to reduce those waiting times. That means having the right people in jobs who can provide specialist support.

"That means recruiting and training specialists and making them available to children so when families ring up wanting support, there's someone there who's able to give them an appointment and support."

Martin says it's a work in progress.

"That money has helped buy 120 extra support staff in this area, but it takes time to attract the specialist staff required and for us to provide the help that we want to.

"It was a response by this Government last year to what has been years of under-investment in this area and growing need.

"We're really committed to helping these children and taking the pressure off their families. That isn't just about money, we need a better system of learning support including for early childhood and that will start to be in place this year."