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September 8, 2003

Deaf thrown a lifeline

From: Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia - Sept 8, 2003

By PAULA BEAUCHAMP, social trends reporter

DEAF preschoolers who were facing years of disadvantage in the classroom have been granted an eleventh-hour reprieve.

Last month the Herald Sun reported the four-year-olds' intensive language program at the Taralye Centre, Blackburn, was to be axed.

The State Government had refused to fund it.

But last week Variety, the children's charity, threw the preschoolers a $70,000 lifeline after reading of their plight in the Herald Sun.

Variety board member Clair Marsh said it would be seriously short-sighted not to fund it. "I guess the biggest thing is the enormous amount it will cost down the track if these kids don't get help now," the Herald Sun Victorian of the Year said.

Up to 10 deaf children a year benefit from the program, which started in 1997.

Yesterday Narre Warren mum Sally Manassa, whose daughter Kaila is enrolled in next year's program, said she was thrilled and relieved.

"This will make the world of difference to Kaila," she said.

The program helps deaf children with cochlear implants to listen and speak at the level of their hearing peers.

Sylvia Dhankhar, mother of Tamara, 4, said the program would help keep her daughter from falling behind at school.

"Tamara will probably have the language of a three-year-old when she starts the program and we hope it will bring her up to five by the time she starts school," she said.

CEO Hilary Russell said Variety's offer had given the centre "breathing space for the next 12 months".

She said the centre would continue to lobby the Government for funding in 2005 and beyond.

Premier Steve Bracks' office last month said it was was refusing funding because services were already offered to deaf children.

But Ms Russell said deaf children risked failing

academically and becoming isolated in the playground if they started school with poor language skills.

While Victoria leads the world in cochlear implants, it is often assumed kids with implants will automatically be able to listen and speak.

Last year Variety gave away $843,000 worth of goods and services.

© Herald and Weekly Times