DALWOOD ASSESSMENT CENTRE AND PALM AVENUE SCHOOL
Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [2.04 p.m.]: The policy debacle surrounding Dalwood Assessment Centre and Palm Avenue School since September last year is a complete disgrace, so it is time now for this program that has dramatically improved the lives of rural and regional children and their families to be recognised, reinstated, resourced and replicated. Last week, parents and former students of the service from around the Tamworth region and beyond joined together to tell their stories. There were many tears, as mums and dads spoke of their struggles, frustration, worry and pain prior to being referred to Dalwood. There were remarkable stories of children returning to their home schools with confidence and new, positive attitudes about themselves and their learning. A 17-year-old Paul Holmes from Tamworth said:
Before I left I was an angry child. I hated tests, I was even suicidal and I credit my life today to Dalwood. I know that today I wouldn't be here; I would have lynched myself without, Dalwood. I want other kids to have the opportunities I have had, it has honestly saved my life!
Paul's mother, Ruth, who is a teacher, said:
It was torture to watch. I knew he was a bright boy, yet everything we tried didn't help him.
After four weeks at Dalwood, one mother described the thrill of her daughter picking up Anne of Green Gables
, her first chapter book, after she previously struggled with simple school readers. She rushed out regularly to tell her mother about all that was going on in the story—it was the opening of a whole new world for her. Dominique Burke from Armidale said:
Everyday these kids go to school is like running an Olympic race for them, but we have seen remarkable improvements since our Son went to the residential school. His self esteem has sky rocketed and he can now use strategies to learn. Previously he had been very depressed and thought he was hopeless.
I received an email from 13-year-old Ben Knight from Loomberah. By even writing to me, it demonstrates the confidence that Ben gained from his Dalwood experience. He wrote:
The Dalwood centre was a godsend for others and me. I was always a boy in trouble because learning was difficult. I was 11 and in year 5, my learning was at a year 2/3 level. After Dalwood I was at a year 6 level. I am now in year 8. I am in A for English and I am achieving at this top level. The key was being treated as a normal boy, not someone with problems. We felt safe and well looked after. It was a home away from home. The essence of Dalwood is its location, its staff and its boarding. So why try and change something that worked so well.
Ben's parents, Rod and Isobel Knight, said:
Our son had struggled a lot at school, we had spent a lot of time taking him to tutoring, extra courses, we had him tested for different things. It was amazing the impact Dalwood had on him—it changed everything. If there could be a criticism of Dalwood it would be that it was completely under resourced, starved of funding by the very people who now claim to be "improving" it. The glib responses from the bureaucrats' present, that the "services were the same", showed they are incapable of understanding our frustration. This lack of empathy results in a failure to identify the essence of "what was" and highlights their incompetence in handling what should be. Yet, we find the "Dalwood experience" is allegedly being "improved" by, relocating it, then dividing it, removing it from its strong volunteer support base, and finally identifying the children as "ill". The very clear point that we agreed upon at the meeting was that it seemed to be the whole experience, the whole approach, the way in which the children were inspired, rewarded and encouraged, which of course is the true essence of holism.
Teachers at the forum also reported stories of extraordinary gains made by their students while in the Dalwood programs. A teacher who had supervised more than 20 students through the service said, "It wasn't broken, so don't fix it". The forum put forward five clear key messages. First, this service is essential to families, and it must be protected in its current form, with its staff retained and properly consulted. Second, the service must be expanded to eliminate all waiting lists. Third, the four-week residential program is vital, and highly valued by parents, teachers and children who are recipients of the terrific outcomes. Fourth, parents do not want this service moved to a hospital; and, fifth, people associated with Dalwood believe that the service should be consolidated back at Seaforth.
These are real stories, about real children struggling to feel good about themselves. There are real families and real marriages being placed under enormous stress and strain. It is within the Government's power to secure this service, to build on the existing foundation, and to offer a lifeline to all of the these families and kids from rural and regional New South Wales who desperately need it—please, do not let them down any longer.
[The Acting-Speaker (Mr Frank Terenzini) left the chair at 2.09 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.