Bureaucratic web snares Kiwi mother, son
A New Zealand mother with an autistic son feels like she has been "trapped" by the Australian Government, after being refused assistance to help her son at school and then being told by the Family Court she cannot leave the country.
Sarah Butterfield, 23, is from Christchurch, but her four-year-old son Levi Smith is an Australian citizen. She has been living in Perth since she moved with her family in 2002 at the age of 12, but has received legal advice she would be unlikely to be granted permanent residency.
Butterfield said Levi could not attend mainstream day care, but was being refused funding to attend a specialist day care because of her residency status.
"I think the part that upset and frustrated me the most was when I decided that I would attempt to pay for parts of my son's treatment privately ... and was told that my autistic son was ineligible to even attend due to my citizenship," she said.
Butterfield would be eligible for special schooling assistance in New Zealand, but an injunction from the Australian Family Court meant she could not take her son out of the country.
Legal documents show Levi's father, an Australian who has been estranged from the pair since 2010, is allowed no contact with Levi and has faced domestic violence charges in the past.
Despite this, he has successfully applied for a court injunction to prevent them from leaving the country.
"So I can't work, I can't give my son the treatment he deserves, I can't get any government support but I'm also not allowed to go home to New Zealand," she said.
Butterfield said she felt "less than an illegal asylum seeker" because even they were entitled to government assistance.
The pair were both living with Butterfield's mother in Perth and were largely being supported by her mother's nursing wage.
Butterfield said she was now exhausting her last avenue for help by asking the government to consider an Act of Grace Payment and was waiting for a response.
The Act of Grace power is a discretionary power used to mitigate the impact of government activities when legislative and administrative provisions do not take into account unique circumstances of individual cases.
Butterfield said the arrangements were placing a strain on her relationship with her mother, and she was worried that if Levi did not get the specialist treatment he needed, he could end up being violent. "I feel like I'm trapped and very alone," she said.
"Medical personnel made it very clear that if I didn't get my son the treatment he needs now (early intervention), there is a very high likelihood of him going the wrong way as a teenager.
"But then they tell me 'sorry we can't help your son because of your citizenship'."
Parliamentary secretary for disabilities and carers Senator Jan McLucas said the government had provided $220 million to help children with an autism spectrum disorder, but would not comment on Butterfield's specific case.
In a letter to Butterfield, New Zealand Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she had asked Brendan Boyle, chief executive of the ministry here, to investigate.
"He tells me that unfortunately there is no assistance that New Zealand can provide in its jurisdiction," Bennett said.
"The New Zealand social security system is only available to people who are resident in New Zealand."
- © Fairfax NZ News