Seanad debates

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Commencement Matters

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

With no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, I am grateful for his presence in the Chamber, but I am disappointed that not one of the substantial number of Ministers in the Department of Health is available to take this matter.

I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to raise the matter of the provision of special needs assistants, SNAs, for preschool children in County Meath. Each county appears to have a different system for the provision of SNAs for preschool children. In County Meath there has been some provision in the past 20 years, while other counties have had no provision and others have had some supports available. In County Meath an ad hocapproach was taken every year. However, this year there has been a battle to secure some funding to maintain existing services. This is despite the fact that the Minister for Health with responsibility for the area has boasted of an increase in the health budget and that the cuts are over. They are not over in the provision of preschool SNAs in County Meath. Up to €197,000 has been allocated for special needs assistants next year, but this will not be enough to maintain the current level of services, particularly with the number of children coming into the system who will require assistance. There is also the possibility of assessment being introduced. I do not know how this will impact on the provision of SNAs.

The most concerning aspect of this issue is that the funding of €197,000 will come from home care packages. This is becoming more of a feature of funding announcements by the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Department of Health in recent months. It is just like the story of John Duggan and the provision of the drug Soliris. If he is to be given it, someone else will have to suffer. Special needs children and their parents in County Meath have been told that someone else will suffer for them. It used to be a case of suffer little children, but now it will probably be elderly people who will have to suffer. The HSE is making this very clear, which is very unfair.

What are the Government’s exact plans for the service? The parents need clarity on the issue. They are meeting tonight to come up with ideas on how the budget should be allocated. That is an awesome responsibility that the HSE seems to have passed on to them. That is now typical of it because it has lost control of its budget, meaning that it does not have responsibility for money anymore and washes its hands of the matter. If Fianna Fáil returns to power, we will give control back to the HSE because it needs to make the decisions while listening to people at the same time.

The fact that the Department of Health is involved in this area is an anomaly. It is responsible for preschool SNAs, while the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is responsible for children and the Department of Education and Skills the curriculum in preschools. Tusla and Pobal are also involved, resulting in a multitude of agencies engaged in the provision of preschool education. This is wrong as we need a joined-up approach. Parents need certainty and information on the provision of SNAs as a substantial number of children will need help next year. We must ensure the Government maximises resources and allocates them fairly to enable those children to have the best possible start.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.