PARENTS in the eastern suburbs are waiting 12 months on average to place their child in early intervention services that one local expert has described as a "messed up system".
The service, which helps children with a disability or developmental delays before they enter school, is crippled by a waiting list that has put parents, teachers and early intervention staff under significant pressure, says Tiffany Birch, who lectures on the issue at Swinburne University.
Ms Birch said children in the eastern suburbs who required services such as speech and occupational therapy were being forced to wait too long.
"What we've found is that if a child's learning style isn't discovered before school it can have far-reaching implications," she said.
"Really good or really negative habits set in in the first five years . . . and for a lot of children intervention is happening either too late or not at all."
Mrs Birch, who also runs a private intervention service for parents to bypass the state system, said a lack of government funding in the past few years had hit the sector hard. She said when a child was finally accepted the service was brilliant, but the waiting times and lack of support parents received during this time was "crazy".
"There's a lack of parent support from the time they receive information about needing to be put on the early intervention list and when they are actually put into the service."
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said increased demand for the service was due to a number of reasons, including population growth and effective screening programs.
"Funding for early childhood intervention services [ECIS] has nearly doubled in the past eight years [from $38.2 million in 2004-05 to $70.4 million for 2011-12]," he said. While waiting, parents were offered "practical support".
In November last year, the state government committed $3.7 million a year for an extra 500 places to address demand across the state.
More than 1000 Victorian children had waited for more than three months for an ECIS place as of February 1.