The Cerebral Palsy Education Centre is acknowledged as a unique and successful specialist education service for children with cerebral palsy and their families which began over 20 years ago and continues to develop and evolve.
Following a study program at the Peto Institute for Conductive Education in Budapest, Hungary, Ms. Claire Cotter established a pilot program at the then Spastic Society of Victoria’s (now SCOPE) Knox Centre. This pilot program, the Knox Special Early Intervention Project (KSEIP), was inspired by conductive education and the concept of a transdisciplinary service which addresses the multifaceted impact of cerebral palsy on children and families. The pilot project was evaluated over the first eighteen months with successful outcomes for families and children. (Catanese, Connell, Cotter, Carter & Rees, 1989). The families and professional who worked together in these programs consistently observed the children achieve levels of participation and independence well beyond their previous expectations and experiences or what they had been told was possible. (Catanese et al, 1989)
The initial work aimed to apply the principles of conductive education with the assistance of a skilled Hungarian trained conductor working with the therapy team. Over time, this conductive education knowledge was integrated with effective therapeutic and educational strategies using a problem-solving approach. This problem solving continues currently as the complex challenges of some children diagnosed with cerebral palsy have necessitated seeking information from other sources to more effectively meet their learning and development requirements.
During the first ten years, the service model at the Knox Centre was the model used for four other Spastic Society of Victoria Early Intervention programs and programs in New South Wales, Queensland and Calgary, Canada. The success of the KSEIP was also a significant factor in the establishment and growth of programs for children of school age as well as the demonstration model used for the post-graduate Certificate in Motor Disabilities at Deakin University (and prior to that at Melbourne University).
In 1991 the KSEIP was critically evaluated by the Director, Dr Maria Hari and senior staff of the Peto Institute with positive results. In 1995, Claire Cotter received an Honorary Diploma in Conductive Education from the International Peto Institute for Conductive Education, Hungary. The unique practice of integrating augmentative and alternative communication and conductive education was also internationally acknowledged when Gayle Porter, senior speech pathologist, was invited as a key note speaker to an international conference in Israel and, in 1998, was invited to address all conductors at the International Peto Institute for Conductive Education. In 2000, Lynn Carter, senior physiotherapist, and Gayle Porter were invited to present training seminars and consultancy input in Calgary, Canada.
In 1998, the Cerebral Palsy Education Centre (CPEC) was established as a separate entity in response to financial constraints in the Spastic Society of Victoria which, at the time, effectively closed the service. This was a challenging time for the families and their perceptions of the service were reflected in a paper presented at the Australian Cerebral Palsy Conference (Cotter 1998). A group of families, staff and community supporters of the programs at the Knox Centre re-established the services under the auspice of an eastern suburbs disability organization.
In July 2001, CPEC commenced operating as an independent service provider with a service agreement with the Department of Human Services which was transferred to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education (DEECD) in 2007. The funding which CPEC receives leaves a substantial shortfall which must be fundraised.
CPEC senior staff have co-authored two publications (Withall and Cotter, 1996; and Porter and Kirkland 1995) as well as contributed to the development and content of a multi-media training package developed by the Queensland Department of Education: Students with Physical Impairments. (Education Queensland, 2001)
In 2007, CPEC signed a service agreement with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to provide a professional development series to those personnel in mainstream schools responsible for the education of students with cerebral palsy and, in particular, with complex communication needs.
From a service for 22 families in 1998, in 2012 CPEC will provides services for 53 families in early childhood intervention and 52 students in the extended education sessions (after school for students with cerebral palsy who attend their local schools.) The demand for CPEC services is increasing with a substantial waiting list with limited vacancies until 2013.