Families denied educational support may sue

A growing number of parents whose children are being denied educational supports are considering taking legal action against the department.

Leading child law solicitor Gareth Noble said he had been “swamped” by families contacting him in recent weeks regarding the provision of services to their children for the new school year and seeking legal advice as to their options.

It comes as most second-level schools begin the new term this week, with all 3,300 primary schools commencing the new school year in the coming days.

Mr Noble said parents seeking advice included those looking for resource teaching for their child with Down Syndrome, others seeking home tuition for their child, and the services of special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools.

He said some areas in the country “seem to have their act together”, but the provision of teaching hours to children with Down Syndrome, for example, was a policy of central government and not the responsibility of schools or local bodies.

“There is an unfair onus now on schools to deliver services that should be delivered centrally,” he said, adding there were “layers of bureaucracy” around the Department of Education that lessened its level of accountability. Mr Noble said he had received 20 contacts from parents in just the past week and it was likely other solicitors around the country were also being contacted.

Special Needs Parents Association chairwoman Lorraine Dempsey described the system of supports for children with disabilities in the free State-funded pre-school early childhood care and education (ECCE) year as a “postcode lottery” that the Government must address.

“It really does depend on where you live and what existing funding arrangements exist, or if your child is with an existing service provider,” she said. “You have this portion of children where the funding isn’t there to support them, so they’re not drawing down the access they are entitled to.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Protection said to date more than €37m has been paid in Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance payments.

Payments were issued to approximately 128,000 families as part of their normal weekly social welfare payment by July 18, at a cost of €32m. By last Friday some 53,000 manual applications had been received, with 35,000 families issued a payment and some 4,000 applications disallowed. More than 13,000 applications are still to be processed, but €37m has so far been allocated.

The Government has provided €46.3m for the scheme in 2014 and applications are still being received.

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