The refusal by the Health Service Executive to approve services at Scoil Aonghusa Cashel is causing unwarranted hardship and inconvenience.
The experience of parents and their teachers regarding children with special educational needs over the lifetime of this government has become a national disgrace. Continuous muddled government policies over how to provide for such children, together with the shortage of resources and the non-availability of facilities, consign many to what can only be described as ‘bureaucratic purgatory’.
These problems are further exacerbated by parents being forced to lurch from crisis to crisis trying to ensure that their children receive a basic education appropriate to their needs, while also endeavouring to locate a continuous and safe environment. All too often, parents with children of special needs, spend a large proportion of their earnings, not to mention months of precious time, to find that there are insufficient services or they have to wait weeks, months, even years before they can get therapy and support for their child.
Last Monday night, I attended a meeting in ‘Scoil Aonghusa’ school in Cashel. This co-educational school which facilitates 85 individuals with multiple physical, emotional and other learning difficulties. These pupils need immediate specialist services and are receiving very little support or funding from the Health Service Executive. I am aware that this is a national issue but similarly, another school ‘Scoil Cormaic’ based too in Cashel who assist to 223 children and young adults also see the constant reoccurrence of minimal services being provided.
The introduction of the Progressive Disability Services for Children and Young Children established by the Health Service Executive to change the way services are provided, is a haphazard, unpredictable, ‘billy- to- jack’, delivery of service and therapy. This project is not going to alleviate any problem. We need services delivered consistently and cohesively and in collaboration with parents and teachers. We need to start listening to parents and teachers who care for these children every day. Both are acutely aware of what needs to be undertaken and how efficient delivery of such services can be fully achieved.
Children with special needs should have access to all the specialist therapy and supports they require not out of luxury, but out of necessity. Lack of funding for services is the current governments daily recited turn of phrase that parents and teachers hear repeatedly, but shouldn’t we find that funding, and shouldn’t funding for children with special needs be a first priority? We need to ensure that everything is in place for them to be enabled to reach their full potential. Instead, without funding and adequate numbers of therapists the government is guilty of preventing these children from reaching their potential, when life has already put enough obstacles in their way.
Yes, we have moved on in terms of assessing and diagnosing children, but support and services for children with special needs has not. Children with special needs are still not receiving the support they need and deserve, in this country. What good is an assessment or a diagnosis, without follow up therapy and support from specialists? It just gives parents and teachers a keyword to research on ‘Google’.
It is evident that this continued chaos of care and services is not at fault with psychologists or therapists, their caseloads are simply too big to meet the needs of so many children. In the absence of services, our teachers are to be applauded for the incredible work they are undertaking to meet the requirements of these children and the after school support they are also providing to parents.
In our last budget we heard that there are more resource and learning support teaching positions being sanctioned. It is obvious that these posts are vital and should continue to increase, however what you don’t hear and what these announcements hide is the fighting, pleading and justification that schools and parents have to make to get these posts. What you don’t hear is how overwhelmed teachers and parents are, to meet the needs of children when there are little or no therapists or services. We need more specialist therapists and psychologists and we need them available to schools, to parents and ultimately to the children with additional needs who deserve them. We need this as a matter of priority.