Preschool children with special needs are being left behind – Ó Caoláin
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, has stressed the need for pre-school children with special needs to have adequate support and resources as the new school year begins. Though the government have promised additional funding in the budget, this will not benefit those children who have been informed of drastic cuts to their early learning entitlement in recent weeks.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“Appropriate educational supports to young children with special needs is of paramount importance to assist in their social, emotional and cognitive development. Five years ago a free pre-school year was introduced, giving families an entitlement of 15 hours early learning for each child prior to their entry into primary school.
“However, this initiative has not been backed up by sufficient resources with that most vulnerable cohort, children with special needs, not getting the supports they require - whether it be in terms of access to pre-school services, or insufficient services within the pre-school setting. The government has acknowledged their failure in this regard.
“However it is galling to find out that there are children with special needs who are having their hours cut in recent weeks. These are families that have fought tooth and nail to attain the supports their children need. Though the government have promised additional funding in the upcoming budget, how will this serve families whose children, at the very age they need the best of educational support, will be denied the resources they need at such a critical time?
“I was made aware of a family in Kerry, for example, whose child will have supports cut from 15 hours to just six. The HSE told the parents that, due to increased demands on the service, they were unable to reinstate the critically needed hours for their child.
“This is a very sorry state of affairs. An interdepartmental report due to be published in September will not alleviate the stress on parents who have children with special needs that are not being met. Not least in this consideration are the children themselves who will suffer if deprived these early years vital learning supports.
“I am urging Minister Leo Varadkar to confirm if and when he intends to adequately resource the necessary supports for these vulnerable children."
* Please note that in the case of the family in Kerry, their child has just been awarded the hours which had been taken away, on appeal. However it transpires that she will now have three different assistants on five hours each, which is highly disruptive for a child in need of routine and consistency.