Special needs law ‘needs to be implemented’

THE Government must put more urgency on implementing laws giving rights to supports in school for children with disabilities, a parents’ leader has claimed.

The roll-out of the 2004 Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act was put on hold in the October 2008 budget but the revised Programme for Government last October makes a commitment that it will be fully implemented in the lifetime of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition.

Among its provisions are that every child with a special need should have the supports they require set out in an individual education plan (IEP) but sections of the act entitling children to the necessary resources are now on hold due to the Government’s budgetary constraints.

The National Parents Council-Primary (NPC-P) has had contact from many parents of children with special needs who are fearful that the support of a special needs assistant (SNA) will be taken from them as part of an ongoing review by the National Council for Special Education. The main function of SNAs is to cater for physical care of children with special needs but the Department of Education requested a review after finding SNAs were still employed in some schools where the child to who they were appointed had left or their care needs had reduced.

Around one-third of posts deemed unnecessary are being cut from this week but Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe rejects suggestions that up to 1,200 of the 10,500 SNA posts will be taken out of the system.

“We accept that the criteria for appointing SNAs is not being changed, but the question has to be asked why it seems these staff are being assigned by schools to help children other than those whose physical needs they were appointed to help with,” said NPC-P chief executive Áine Lynch said.

Ms Lynch said the debate should include how to meet the apparent shortfall of supports for those other children, who must not be getting the kind of resources they need if SNAs have to help them in class.

“The programme for government commitment is one thing but there needs to be a specific timeframe as some children have IEPs but the resources to support them simply aren’t following,” Ms Lynch said.


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