‘Children should have equal access to therapy’

The need for equal access for all children with disabilities who need therapy services in school needs to be addressed urgently by the HSE, TDs and senators urged yesterday.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) outlined to the Oireachtas Education Committee how levels of access to speech and language, occupational therapy and other services vary widely in different parts of the country, often depending on the school or type of class a child attends.

The HSE is at various stages of implementing a new system under which those inconsistencies should be ruled out. But Senator Averil Power said it was unacceptable that some children cannot even get on waiting lists in the north Dublin area for a number of years.

“Yes, it’s worth reconfiguring services but in the meantime we need to put the resources in place, because it sounds like this talk of reconfiguration is being used as an excuse for not providing resources and I think it’s incredibly unfair,” Ms Power said.

HSE national social care director Pat Healy assured the FF senator — who complained of getting the same reply for a number of years about extra posts to ease pressure — that 80 additional therapy posts are due to be filled in 2014 in support of the new system, which should be fully in place by the end of next year.

“Over time, it will mean that all children regardless of where they live, or their education service, will have equitable access to services for their needs,” he said.

Earlier, NCSE chief executive Teresa Griffin told the committee that parents and schools have to make difficult decisions based on the availability or absence of therapy services.

“For example, parents seek to send their child to a special school or a special class where they might get therapeutic support, even though their child is capable of attending mainstream education,” she said.

Ms Griffin said that some schools have severe difficulty deciding if they can keep students with challenging behaviour in the absence of clinical supports.

An example was outlined by Senator Power in relation to a mainstream school with special classes, whose principal phoned her in tears after the latest incident.

“The behaviour of some of these students who aren’t getting the services they need has deteriorated to the point where there have been a number of serious incidents where children have lost control in the classroom and attacked teachers,” she said.

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