By: Simon Collins

Jacinda Ardern, pictured with a Sign Language interpreter at the education summit, has promised to halve the waiting list for early intervention services in preschools. Photo / Simon Collins

A small Budget increase for early intervention services will halve the waiting list of preschoolers needing extra help, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

She told 800 people at an education summit in Auckland today that Thursday’s Budget would include an extra $21.5 million for the early intervention service over the next four years, about $5.4m a year.

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said the increase would halve the current waiting list.

“This Budget increase will see an extra 1750 children receive help in this coming year and contracted early intervention service providers will support an additional 150 children with the highest needs,” she said.

“Within two years this number will increase to an additional 200 children.”

The numbers are small compared with more than 13,000 preschool children who received an early intervention service in 2015-16 for problems such as speech delays and autism.

Former Education Minister Nikki Kaye told former Green MP Catherine Delahunty last year that 1204 children were waiting longer than 90 days for an early intervention service appointment as at July 3 last year, with one child waiting for 381 days.

However, the average waiting time for an appointment has been trending downwards from 97 days in 2013-14 to 71 days in 2016-17.

Ardern said the average wait was now 74 days – “and in the life of a little 3- or 4-year-old child who’s hungry to learn, that’s 74 days too long”.

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