Calls to close the slot cost gap

A new campaign aims to help cleft children and their families cover the cost of the services, surgeries and therapies they need to develop essential communication skills.

Each year, over 400 babies are born with a cleft condition in Australia. Up to 75% of these children will have a severe malformation requiring significant surgery and intervention, including ongoing speech therapy.

But there are barriers to accessing this essential support, including prohibitive costs and long public waiting lists.

Cleft Pals Victoria seeks to change that with a new campaign to engage politicians with their message.

CleftPals calls on the government to provide speech therapy services for children with cleft lip and palate under the National Disability Insurance System (NDIS) and subsidized by the Medicare Cleft Lip and Palate Plan.

“We are pushing for our voices to be heard and to allow access to speech for our cleft children,” said Bridie Roberts, CleftPals Victoria Committee Chair.

She said subsidizing speech therapy would make a ‘world of difference’.

“We fear that children born with cleft lip and palate will be left behind. This is because of the lack of affordable speech therapy. Many parents have to seek private speech therapy services and costs can range from $300 for a consultation to $190 per session. You can go to a GP and get five free sessions, but five sessions for a child is not enough. Speech is crucial for these children to communicate properly,” she said.

As a kindergarten teacher, Roberts witnessed the benefits of speech therapy for children, on their communication skills and on their social well-being. She said many cleft children were bullied for their speech problems and that speech therapy could alleviate these problems by helping children learn to form words from an early age.

Long waiting lists for public health services make it difficult for families to access therapy, but the private costs are out of reach for many.

Roberts’ daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate and underwent extensive surgery and speech therapy. Roberts said that despite going through the public system, she had to pay out of pocket for many services.

Her daughter is now thriving, she says, and is proud of her slit.

“If I can make a difference in helping other families in my situation gain access to speech therapy and raise confident children, I would be so proud,” Roberts said.

CleftPals is currently working on emailing constituency MPs to enlist their support, and they have started a petition and a Twitter account to garner public support for the cause as well. They also called on allied health professionals to share the petition with their networks and via Facebook and Instagram.

“We’re not going to stop, we’re going to fight very hard to make sure our children’s voices are heard,” Roberts said.

Christine E. Phillips