The decision to remove Speech and Language therapists from The Holy Family Deaf school in Cabra was made without consultaion with parents or the school – and will be “devastating” for deaf children, parents say, as it removes a vital and effective service from already disadvantaged children.
Dáire Ryan a parent of a child attending the school has said “The HSE only notified the school in early February when they arranged an online meeting with the principal, their strategy has been in the pipeline for years without any consultation with the school or us as parents of the impacted children. ”
“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, for 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.
The current post enables the therapist to work in tandem with teachers on the needs of pupils. The onsite therapist position means that there is an effective seamless operation that works well for everyone.
The principal and parents are deeply disappointed with the HSE response. The HSE are failing to recognise the cost that this move will have on the children. It would make one believe that they do not understand the role that this post provides or comprehend the needs of deaf children.
Dáire Ryan said it felt like deaf children are an “easy target”.
“For secondary level pupils in the school, like my son, who use necessary group work in therapy sessions, this helps with their social communication and language skills. This will be a vital therapy that will no longer exist for these students. We feel like our children are an easy target: first no access to audiology for too long, then the introduction of facemasks now this… placing older pupils on community lists is just ridiculous and will make our children feel awkward and different in a waiting room if they’re waiting with toddlers and small children to see a therapist that do not know them or understand their needs.”
As things stand there is no need for an interpreter for the pupils, if they are placed on community lists however many children that are ISL users will require an interpreter for their non-signing therapist. Interpreters are not easy to find and many do not have experience working with children.
The principal of the school Eimear O’Rourke is certain that this move will not serve the pupils of her school well. The parents feel the HSE has not seriously considered their concerns.
Ms O’Rourke wrote to the HSE to say the loss of the on-site speech and language therapist (SLT) would be “incalculable”.
“… given the complex nature of deaf and hard of hearing students speech, language and communication difficulties our pupils needs are met by an SLT with a high degree of expertise and experience in the specialism of deafness, The SLT should also have the skills to assess and support pupils who communicate through a variety of modalities including Irish Sign Language ISL. The loss of the services of [SLT] one of the very few specialist SLTs in deafness in Ireland would be incalculable not only to our school but to deaf children nationally.”
Minister Anne Rabbitte is due to meet with the school Principal: they welcome her support and are hopeful that her support will help them hold on to this vital position within the school.
Ms O’Rourke said: “we need Minister Rabbitte to continue to engage the HSE towards the implementation of Government policy in the best interests of our deaf and hard of hearing pupils… Minister Rabbitte has responded to our invitation to meet with her. We hope this will happen next week.”