Dáil hears children self-harming as educational needs not met

Schools should have to provide places for children with special needs, says Minister

Children with additional needs who are unable to access suitable education are self-harming and “some are suicidal”, a Sinn Féin TD has told the Dáil.

Cavan-Monaghan TD Pauline Tully said she has heard of children banging their head “off the wall or off the ground” out of frustration because their needs are not being met.

Ms Tully was speaking as her party put forward a motion calling on the Government to introduce emergency measures to ensure all children have an appropriate school place this September.

She said there were hundreds of children with additional learning needs either without a school placement or in inappropriate school placement.

“Children are not being educated in the communities in which they live. Many are travelling up to 40km from their homes to access a supposedly suitable school placement,” she said.

“We have children in our schools on reduced timetables all because they’ve been placed in an unsuitable school setting or insufficient resources have been provided to make the placement work.”

Ms Tully also said children were being homeschooled “not because it is their choice, but because they have no other option”.

She said emergency action was needed to “deal with the crisis looming in two months” with “countless children” facing into a new school year without an appropriate school placement.

“Parents have contacted me and they’re so upset that their child is not receiving the education they require,” Ms Tully added.

“Children are self-harming. I’m hearing about children banging their heads off the wall or off the ground, some are suicidal and they are lashing out at parents and at siblings and this is totally born out of frustration that their needs are not being met and it’s not fair on the child.

“Every child deserves a chance to reach their potential and to be happy and safe in their everyday lives.”

Her party colleague, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, pointed to a recent survey from AsIAm, the national autism charity, which said at least 267 students do not have an appropriate school place for September 2022.

“In reality, that number is significantly higher. That does not include the thousands of children whose parents, desperate and feeling that they have had no other choice, have accepted an inappropriate place for their child,” the Cork South-Central TD said.

“One parent told me this week that her and her partner were awake at night worrying about putting their son into an unsuitable mainstream class of 30 children in September with a teacher who is not trained in special education, as there is no other option for him.”

Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan noted that she had recently announced she will be initiating the section 37a process to compel schools to increase places for children with special education needs.

Ms Madigan said she was left with “no other choice but to take this substantive action. All parties would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from the Minister.”

The Minister said all schools should have to provide places for children with special educational needs. “It’s not good enough to say ‘we don’t cater for children with additional needs’. I cannot accept that and I won’t accept that,” she said.

If you are affected by any issue in this article, helplines are open at:

Samaritans 01-116123, jo@samaritans.org

Aware 1800-804848, supportmail@aware.ie

Pieta House 1800-247247

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times