Thursday, 14 November 2019
Progressing Children's Disability Services: Statements
The working title for this debate is "progressing children's disability services". It must be acknowledged that progress has been made in this area, particularly if one thinks of children with a disability 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. Today there is more understanding of disability and more knowledge about the range of disabilities that exist. We know more about what needs to be done, how to do it and why; the issue is getting on with it so that no child with a disability is prevented from achieving his or her potential or from having positive educational and life experiences. Parents and guardians should not have to battle to vindicate the right of a disabled child to an education, health care and public services but sadly, that is the reality because of waiting lists and staff shortages.
I wish to acknowledge the teachers, nurses, social workers, SNAs, learning support staff, key workers, care staff and ancillary staff who are working with children with a disability. The key to services is co-ordination and consistency in recognising and answering the individual's needs. St. Michael's House published its Key Working Children Pilot Model 2018 recently which is all about ensuring that the interactions with services are co-ordinated, consistent and effective. It is also all about the individual's needs. It refers to providing requested information and where to find it, co-ordination of clinical inputs and the provision of emotional support. The pilot is running at the moment and will be evaluated soon. The school-age disability team is concerned with enabling participation in life. The team is comprised of a range of staff who provide a range of different interventions. Indeed, St. Michael's House has incredible staff.
Another service with which I am very familiar, as is the Minister of State, is ChildVision in Drumcondra. It runs individual programmes, provides a range of educational services and access to specialists. There is a special play centre for children with visual impairment, a pet farm and extra-curricular activities like horse riding. The centre also provides skills training, mobility training and support for those who are over 18. We have the models of best practice in place already but access is not widespread. Many parents have to fight every inch of the way for their child with a disability, which is absolutely heartbreaking. It is particularly heartbreaking for parents with a child who has challenging behaviour in terms of their fears around what will happen when that child becomes physically strong.
The way forward is through the interdisciplinary disability network teams and the provision of services based on the child's individual needs, regardless of where the child lives or goes to school.
However, this is taking a very long time. How many children have been left without the services they need, when if that service had been set up promptly it would have made a difference? The Minister of State knows about the need for maximum early intervention. A couple of months ago, the Ombudsman for Children was critical of the HSE and Tusla for failing to do enough to co-ordinate services for children with disabilities who are living in care. There was a lot of criticism that the agencies were not working together in an effective way. Again, I have to acknowledge those foster parents who take on children with a disability and we know about the lack of disability managers in the HSE.
We are talking about implementation and action on the joint protocol for interagency collaboration today. When we come to children with autism, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. A child with autism can cope and do well with support in a mainstream class and I have seen that. A child with autism may need to be in a special ASD class in a mainstream school but there has to be interaction with the non-ASD classes. Then there are times when there is a need for a special school, like ChildVision, which has a multiple disabilities and visual impairment, MDVI, unit. There is one glaring discrepancy in the statistics. We know the number of ASD classes at primary level but we need the same number at second level because those children do not suddenly lose autism when they become teenagers. It is frustrating for the child as they are in ASD classes at primary level and then they are put into mainstream classes at secondary level. It is a disaster for that child, for the other children and for the teacher. No ASD child should be passing his or her nearest second level school. We have far too many instances of schools saying they cannot cater for a child with ASD. I know this from my teaching days because we were a school that was welcoming of children with disabilities and we had schools in the area telling parents to send their children to St. Mary's Secondary School because they did not have the resources. We did not have any extra resources or finance but we had the right attitude of acceptance and respect for difference and we had staff who were innovative and inventive. Primary school teachers understand differentiation and the various methodologies from their training. We do not have the same training for second level teachers so we need more input there when it comes to training. Applied behaviour analysis is a way forward in dealing with challenging behaviour, if that can be brought into teacher training.
Members have mentioned access to psychological assessments in diagnosis. Early intervention cannot be put in place without a comprehensive assessment. The urgent issue is the full implementation of the services for children. It is hard to accept these gaps when we know about the amount of funding that goes into private education. It does not add up.