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Girl with disability misses school after ministry delay

Laura Dooney, Reporter

A 12-year-old girl with disabilities had her transport to school cut off for weeks due to delays from the Ministry of Education.

This was after the family had to reapply for the service, after moving just five minutes down the road.

The ministry admits it let Ava Cregan and her family down in delaying her application, and will change its processes.

When Jessica Cregan and her family moved house, they knew they'd have to put in a fresh application for Ava to get her taxi to school.

They thought a few weeks would be long enough, as Ava, who's in a wheelchair and has learning difficulties, was already using the service.

The ministry required new applications to be lodged for the service when a student moved, or changed school.

That was because the taxi was only provided to students attending the closest school they could enrol at, it said.

The ministry got the paper work on 22 March, and Ava's taxi service started again on 15 May.

Jessica Cregan said she was worried other people would have to go through the same process. Photo: RNZ

When Ms Cregan asked questions about why things were taking so long, she was told there were hundreds of applications to be assessed before her daughter's.

Her husband was away, and Ms Cregan can't lift her daughter into the car.

If it wasn't for the holidays and the help of the school, Ava would've been off for weeks, she said.

"When I rang them and told them our situation they said 'oh well, you're not the only one - there are plenty of people in that situation' - so obviously there are people with kids that probably couldn't go to school for weeks because of how it's all arranged.

"It's not good enough, really."

For Ava even a few days away from school was hard.

"She gets really frustrated. She gets really, really bored. She's really, really strong on routine so going to school is important to her."

Despite what happened, Jessica Cregan felt she was lucky - but was worried about others who might be going through the same process.

"If you've got a child that's that heavily dependent on you, it's really difficult to take them out and about and to do things. And also just for their own development, you know a few weeks away from school could be a huge setback for someone that relies on routine and relies on going to school everyday and having that support."

Dave Matthews said disabled people and their families deserved a fair go, like everyone else. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The situation the family had found itself in was appalling, CCS Disability chief executive Dave Matthews said.

He said the eligibility of Ava's access to the taxi had already been established, the family hadn't moved far, and Ava was going to the same school.

"The only thing that got in the way was some bureaucrat insisting that the whole application process be revisited."

Having to tell their story over and over, really upset families, he said.

What Jessica Cregan and Ava experienced was just another part of life for people with disabilities, and their families.

"Families are continually coming up against barriers and continually having to retell their story and re-establish their eligibility for support and we need to do better for disabled people and their families because they deserve a fair go, like everyone else," Mr Matthews said.

The Ministry of Education accepted it could've done better.

It was reviewing its processes to be sure they meet the needs of students who need help to get to school, the head of education infrastructure service, Kim Shannon, said.

About 7000 people were getting transport assistance, and every time someone moved house or school - a new application was required - but usually only took 20 working days.

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