Parents of deaf children have said they are “relieved and hopeful” after the Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, paused the rollout of a scheme which would have meant that special schools lost their in-house speech and language therapists.
Educators and parents had strongly opposed the removal of the on-site therapists from deaf schools, saying that children would then need to leave classrooms during school hours and travel to special centres for vitally important therapies, with seriously negative effects for the children’s development.
Parents at the Holy Family School for the Deaf in Cabra had launched an open letter addressed to the Government and the HSE urging that the threatened removal of the school’s on-site Speech and Language Therapist be reversed.
“We are unanimously opposed and deeply fearful of the impact from the loss of the specialist SLT service at the Holy Family School for the Deaf in Cabra. This is a specialist therapy for deaf children that cannot be simply replaced by treatment in the community,” they said. Parents and teachers also contended that the changes had been pushed through without consulting educators and families and understanding the possible damage to children.
Now Minister Rabbitte says she has ordered the HSE to pause the rollout of the Progressing Disability Services programme which would have pushed through the changes causing parents so much anxiety.
In an interview with Newstalk she said that none of the special schools, including the deaf schools, would lose their on-site speech and therapy provision while the programme was paused – and she said that the HSE had not been listening to parents and schools, and had failed to communicate properly with those stakeholders.
Margaret Mullins, whose son is deaf, says that parents will be “relieved” to have learned of the pause in the rollout, and would remain “hopeful” that the Minister would ensure that schools and children would not lose their therapists.
“Like other parents, I’d be very relieved, and hopeful that this will now reverse the terrible policy of removings speech and language supports,” she said. “Parents have to fight so hard for every support and service when a child has a disability, it doesn’t seem right or fair.”
Dáire Ryan, a parent of a deaf child, previously highlighted how damaging the move would have been:
“Community therapists often do not have the skills or experience to adequately support our children and their families. The Progressive Disability Services plan will be an excellent plan for many children and young people. However, our children with a unilateral need, will lose out.They will be forced on already extremely lengthy local lists for community therapy,” she explained.
“They are taking an existing service that my child is thriving with and replacing it with something worse. This is not progressive, it is just devastating. We thought extra supports would be put in place given the current challenges that deaf children in particular are facing. They are disadvantaged in many ways in the educational setting, they do not need to miss more time from school to attend appointments,” Ms Ryan said.
Parents say that putting pupils on local community lists will cause a lot of upheaval for students that board at the school because they live too far to commute. Some children attend the school by bus and it will mean missing a remarkable amount of time for speech and language appointments now only available outside the school, and they may not have an alternative means of transport to get to school. This will cause them to fall behind in their academic work.
Margaret Mullins said that she hoped Minister Rabbitte would now come through for parents. “This has to remain reversed and the needs of children attending special schools needs to be paramount,” she said.