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Special Educational Needs Services Provision (Continued)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien] On the other hand there are parents of children attending special schools who are very wary about nominating representatives and proceeding with the implementation group. We are already seeing a kind of breakdown within the implementation groups, with parents not being able to agree on the best way forward.

The other concern that came out of the meeting, which I hope will be addressed, was that parents were being asked to partake in the groups but they did not have all the documentation and did not know what the overall plan was. No policy documents were provided to them for studying before they were asked to join the implementation groups.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch Every parent wants the very best for their child. If one has a child with particular needs, or needs that are different from those of other children, there is always a fear the needs of the child will not be met in the future. That is a normal feeling, something one must accept and realise happens.

On the implementation groups and whether the mapping should be in place, I reiterate what I said at that meeting, namely, both can run in tandem. There is no need to hold one up while waiting on the other. Mapping is vitally important, as I have always maintained.

I refer to the Progressing Disability document, which is part of a suite of measures we are taking in the area of disability. It is a very good document that outlines delivery of a service in the community. I understand that people in specialist schools have a difficulty with that taking place. I realise they are happy with the service they have and do not want to lose it so this reaction is very understandable. The difficulties I heard about on that day were in terms of where children must go in order to receive the service, and the type of environment they will face. It should be possible to sort out all these things - they are not impossible tasks but entirely solvable issues.

However, there are swathes of children in the community going to mainstream schools who do not have access to any services. I am not one who says we should run madly ahead with the project or that it is cost-neutral. Nothing is cost-neutral. Even moving something to a new location is not so because one has to look at the location and see what is needed. We must try to ensure that every child has access to a service. The mapping should tell us where the gaps are, which is key to the whole issue. If we find there are gaps in the area of speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychology and all those things, it will then be my job, or that of whoever stands in this position next time around, to ensure the resources are put in place to fill those gaps. That is what we did in mental health and what we are about to do in the area of older people and old age psychiatry. It is what we need to do.

Above all else, we must ensure every child has access to a service. This is not an overnight project; it will take at least three years. I heard the parents talking about their fears that day and these are genuine fears. Nobody wants other than the very best for their children. I would say to those people they need to be part of the process, if they want to have any influence. That is not to say everything will be agreed. This will not happen, it never does. However, mapping and finding the gaps in the service is vitally important. That is what we did in the area of mental health and we need to do it here too. We cannot continue to allow the resource that is in place to go unused. It is not enough, but the resource I mean is the allied professionals I just named. I do not say this in a negative or disingenuous way. We cannot allow all those people to remain within institutions and only delivering service in those institutions. We must have a more holistic approach and must ensure that children who have a difficulty about going into particular areas are accommodated. I very clearly heard the woman the Deputy mentioned.

This is a solvable problem, however, and we need to look at solutions. This is about delivering a better service to more children, and also to those many young adults who are still receiving the service. That would be the aim but it is not an overnight project and will take time. I urge people to become engaged with the process.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I do not, for one moment, doubt the Minister of State's sincerity about trying to improve the service. I genuinely mean that, because I know her track record in this area. It is very welcome that she has acknowledged today in the Chamber that this project cannot be done on a cost-neutral basis. That is a big fear people have, as the Minister of State will know from the meeting.

I completely agree we must map out the services we need in order to identify the gaps that must be filled. The Minister of State rightly stated there cannot be a situation where people who need services do not receive them. Everybody is entitled to them and should receive them. The mapping process will identify the individuals in question and resources will have to be put in place.

The big fear, however, was about doing the work on a cost-neutral basis. If gaps are being identified which will then have to be plugged with resources, and this is being attempted on a cost-neutral basis, it is easy to understand the fear on the part of parents whose children are attending specialist schools. Their big fear is that in moving to the geographical model services will be taken from some individuals in order to plug the gaps in other areas. The Minister of State's acknowledgment today that perhaps this cannot be done on a cost-neutral basis is a positive step and I am sure if parents heard it they would feel there is an understanding of their fears. If we can achieve this, which is not easy in the circumstances we face with the public finances, perhaps we can have a situation where we do not take from one area that is working well in order to try to compensate another area where there are gaps.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I will be brief. I approach everything on the basis that people come to the table with the very best intentions. I have always done that and that is how I will continue. Equally, when I am dealing with any situation I ask myself what I would do in that circumstance. I know if I had a child who was receiving a very good service and there was a possibility that service might move to a different location, I would be very nervous about all of that. I understand this, I really do. What we need to look at is how to improve the service. It is not about taking from Peter to pay Paul, which never works: neither Peter nor Paul is happy. We really need to start improving the service.

We have used a model which I am reluctant to mention because I know it could be misinterpreted and I do not mean it in that way. The model we used in the area of mental health, whereby we mapped what was necessary for delivering the service in the community, is a good one and we must consider it. The needs will be different in the area of disability and we understand that. Nevertheless that type of mapping process works. It looks at where gaps exist and what is necessary to ensure they are filled, not by robbing Peter to pay Paul but by taking a look at the kind of enhanced budget we need. This may be a separate budget. In mental health, we used developmental money rather than a centralised budget. That is the direction we need to take and we must look at it.

That answer will not satisfy the parents we met in Ballincollig - at this time. However, if we have a view of where we want to get to and if there is an incremental plan of how to get there, we could go on this journey together.

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