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Defence Community Organisation

For ADF members and their families

1800 624 608

Support for families with special needs

Dec 03 2019

When Emma Johnson found out she was pregnant, she would not have imagined how much her life was about to change.


Already foster mum to Clinton, who has special needs, and step-mum to the four children of her Army husband Adam, her world was turned upside down when her 20-week scan showed that her baby had a heart condition.

In fact, the situation was even more serious than that. Soon after his birth, Caleb was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome, a term that refers to a specific set of birth defects, medical problems, and developmental issues, including heart defects. He is legally blind and has severe to profound hearing loss.

“We spent the next six months living at the hospital for treatment and more surgeries,” said Emma. When Emma was ready to get back to work, the family struck another hurdle. Emma and Adam struggled to find a childcare centre that would accept their little boy. Rejected by several centres, they were finally matched with One Tree’s Kids Brigade.

“Caleb now goes to the early childhood centre four days a week, and he can go an extra day if we are both working. He thrives in the environment,” said Emma. “The centre has been able to accommodate all his needs and more. He’s coming along in leaps and bounds, and his specialist is impressed with how well he utilises his limited eyesight.

Now parenting two children with special needs, one in day care and one in school, plenty of appointments for both boys, and two parents working full time, life is complex and busy for the family.

“Planning is the key to us making it all work,” said Emma. “That doesn’t change because Adam is in Defence.”

Defence provides a free individual case management service for childcare placement to support ADF families when they move to a new area or change their work or care arrangements, such as when a serving member returns from maternity leave.

Specialist early learning staff from Defence childcare service provider, One Tree Community Services, provide support to families who need help to find appropriate childcare. They negotiate with all local registered childcare providers, including family day care and before and after school care, to ensure childcare is tailored to individual family circumstances, including special needs.

Call the Defence Family Helpline for details on childcare and other support available to ADF families, including connection with the Defence Special Needs Support Group coordinator in your area on 1800 624 608 or email defencefamilyhelpline@defence.gov.au.

This article was published in the 2019 Spring/Summer issue of Defence Family Matters.

Caleb