Open discussion on the evolution of Australian and New Zealand Thought

Sunday, 16 March 2008

History of NSW services for the intellectually handicapped

This is a chapter from a thesis on the flow of funds to services for people with intellectual handicaps in New South Wales. It tells the story of the evolution of services from the beginning of the colony to the eve of the Richmond reforms that emptied the hospitals in order to give the people inside an opportunity for a more normal life. One of the themes woven through this account is the laboured emergence of recognition of the intellectually handicapped as a distinct group with needs that are to a large extent different from other groups, particularly the mentally ill.

As a result of their low status, services for people with intellectual handicaps have tended to lag behind those provided for other disability groups, though in recent decades there are signs of increased efforts being made to rectify this situation [written in 1982]. Some of these efforts have been made by groups of parents to provide services privately that the State either could not or would not render and some of the activities in the public sector are the result of lobbying and agitation by parents. One of the major developments in this area has been the emergence of the parents’ movement since the Second World War and this has been a great help for those professionals who have worked to upgrade government services.

Postscript 2008

25 years later it seems that the asylums were emptied almost completely but there has been no follow-up to this study to assess the new pattern of distribution of resources. Nor has the "normalisation" been subjected to rigorous evaluation. It is widely believed that the people moved out of the hospitals but the resources required for their care in the community did not follow them. Evidence on this matter is only anecdotal and journalistic but it flags an issue that calls for investigation.

No comments: