Children must not be left behind
Sir, – Your editorial on Saturday discusses how children’s welfare slipped off the Government’s agenda after the 2008 recession (“Least visible group in our society must not be left behind again”, July 11th).
This includes the welfare and supports provided to children with disabilities who have paid a high price in the months since March when schools closed and essential services were withdrawn.
This comes on top of a pitiful level of essential support services available to them prior to the Covid-19 period.
As a result of the recruitment embargo to the HSE that followed the last recession, children attending St Michael’s House, Goatstown, Dublin, were left without early intervention speech and language services for almost a year.
Several years later, in December 2018, parents of many of the same children were informed that there was 80 per cent of a single speech and language therapy resource available to look after the speech and language needs of 112 school-going children.
Despite representations to St Michael’s House and TDs of the previous Dáil, the level of resource available for speech and language therapy remains the same. It is not possible for 80 per cent of a resource to provide adequate support to 112 children, all with speech and language needs.
Furthermore, in the not unlikely scenario where a child with complex needs, for example Down syndrome, moves schools, their new school will not receive a resource hour allocation to look after the child’s needs. The system allocates resource hours to the school the child attends for junior infants. If the child moves school after that, this allocation neither transfers to the new school, nor does the new school receive a similar allocation of resource hours, even though the child’s needs remain unchanged.
The impact of the current Covid-19 crisis on children with disabilities is yet to be measured. Services, such as speech and language therapy, have not yet resumed and we are still unsure as to whether or not schools will reopen in September. Families are under additional pressure as they struggle to keep children with needs engaged and prevent all the developmental progress made from dissipating.
Despite its late arrival, I welcome the summer school initiative that the Government has introduced this year to reacclimatise children with the school environment.
I would urge the new Minister of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to address urgently the deficits in services and systems that I’ve described above, and to be proactive in ensuring that this vulnerable group of children are not left wanting again for the duration of this crisis and beyond. – Is mise,