Blind girl with epilepsy wrongly denied thousands of dollars in NDIS support

Christopher Knaus
Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. A blind 11-year-old girl who lives in the town was wrongly denied NDIS assistance, a tribunal has ruled. Photograph: Ross Land/Getty Images

An 11-year-old girl in foster care in Tennant Creek, who is blind, has epilepsy and cognitive impairment, was wrongly denied national disability insurance scheme support worth tens of thousands of dollars, a tribunal has found.

The girl, who cannot be named, faces “enormous challenges” due to the complexity and significance of her disabilities. She has been funded for support under the NDIS since September 2014.

But last year the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) reviewed her package and withdrew about $23,600 used to see a support coordinator, who helped to navigate the scheme’s complexities and link the girl with the best services.

The NDIA had also refused to pay for one week of respite for her foster carer every six weeks.

The tribunal heard the respite was crucial for the girl’s carer. It allowed her to “reset, take care of herself, have normal relationships with people and recuperate”.

However, because she was a foster child, the girl couldn’t simply be placed with another carer. She was instead required to stay temporarily in residential care, at a cost of about $4,390 every six weeks.

The NDIA said the respite costs should be met by other available support systems, not the NDIS.

The NDIA also refused to fund two support workers to take the girl to the pool three times a week. The pool trips were used for physical therapy and building her confidence, and were one of her only forms of recreation and socialising. They were recommended by physiotherapists, psychologists and occupational therapists at Novita Children’s Services.

Her foster carer was unable to manage the trips on her own. On one occasion the girl had an epileptic seizure in the water and the carer struggled to get her out.

The decisions of the NDIA were challenged through the administrative appeals tribunal, which published its judgment online on Friday.

The tribunal found the NDIA had erred in the three decisions.

In response, the NDIA told Guardian Australia said it was “carefully considering the decision”.

“The NDIA remains committed to ensuring that [the girl’s] reasonable and necessary supports are funded,” a spokeswoman said.

The tribunal’s deputy president, Katherine Bean, said removing the $23,600 in support coordination funding was done “somewhat surprisingly” and lacked any proper rationale.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the respondent has not sought to defend that position in the context of this matter,” Bean wrote.

The tribunal granted the girl $12,228 over six months to help with the coordination of her support services, resisting the NDIA’s calls for the amount to be set at $9,040.

Bean also ruled that funding respite for the girl’s foster carer was “essential to the maintenance of the applicant’s current care arrangements”.

“I am satisfied on the basis of her evidence that if this is not provided, it is probable that the applicant’s foster mother will not be able to continue caring for her, which would be likely to have an extremely negative impact on the applicant and increase the impact of her disabilities upon her,” Bean wrote.

The tribunal ruled it to be a reasonable and necessary cost that was attributable to the girl’s disabilities.

“I am also satisfied that provision of this support is reasonable and necessary for the applicant as it … will assist the applicant to pursue her goals, aspirations and objectives, in particular ensuring that her carer is supported to sustain their caring role,” Bean wrote.

The tribunal also found the pool visits were important and should be funded by the NDIS.

“I am satisfied that from the point of view of her physical and social wellbeing, it is highly beneficial for the applicant to attend the pool in Tennant Creek three times per week,” Bean wrote.

“I am further satisfied that it is only safe for her to do this on the basis that there are two adults with her at all times, as recommended in the Novita report.”