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Twin’s story confirms need to focus on children in election

8 November 2011

Twin’s story confirms need to focus on children in this election

IHC applauds the political parties’ focus on children in this year’s general election but says this focus needs to include action on disabled children and young people.

IHC has produced a Call to Action for Children and Young People report to raise awareness in the community and among politicians about the major issues facing disabled children in New Zealand.

Levi Jeffery, 8, is blind and has autism. That was enough for two Hamilton primary schools to deny him enrolment when he turned five, despite his legal right to attend his local school.

Levi is a twin and his parents Maxine and her husband Keith assumed that he would go to the same school as his sister Olivia, but the family was in for a shock.

Olivia Jeffery started at school when she was five. “I started her six months before him, so she wasn’t going to be known as ‘the blind boy’s sister’,” Maxine says. But when it came time for Levi to start, the school said that unless he came with full teacher-aide support, he couldn’t be enrolled.

Maxine says a second principal told her that if he accepted Levi, then other parents would remove their children. In the end Olivia was removed from her school and she and Levi started together, aged 6, at Woodstock Primary School, in Hamilton.

She says the refusal to enrol Levi disrupted the education of both children and caused stress to the whole family, in particular Olivia, who now suffers anxiety because of it.

“We wanted our twins to be together. They were born together – they were only a minute apart. That was the reason we fought,” Maxine says. “And the sad thing about it is that I am going to have the same thing when they go to intermediate and I am going to have the same thing when they start high school. I am resigned to it.”

Olivia too is getting ready for the fight. “She has already told me that I am not going to put her in a single-sex school because she is going to be there to look after him.”

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant says the stories in this Call to Action mirror the experiences of thousands of children in New Zealand today. “We can do better as a country to ensure that all children have a strong start in life – every day disabled children and young people are missing out at home, at school and in the community.”

IHC is calling on people to use the information in discussions about vulnerable children and at political meetings. “After the election IHC will be using this Call to Action to monitor progress on the changes needed to ensure the rights of disabled children and young people are protected,” Trish says.

ENDS

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