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Dail Eireann Debate – Report of Joint Committee on Education and Skills: Motion

Speaking recently in the Dail on the ‘Report on Training and Supports for Providers of Special Needs Education and Education in DEIS Schools,’ Labour TD for Dublin West, Joan Burton, thanked the Joint Committee on Education and Skills for producing this very valuable report, and commended all the people who work in special needs schools and in schools, as well as the genuine efforts being made to integrate children.

Deputy Burton said:

“Parents want their small child with special needs, to be mainstreamed into our educational system with other children as far as possible. That is understandable and good but definitely require appropriate nursing and clinical support. There needs to be cooperation between the medical and social services and the schools.

“Many issues involving a child with sever behavioural issues go to board level for action and I am concerned about this. The behavioural issues may be very severe and may involve actual or perceived threats to staff or other children in the school. This can sometimes result in the child effectively being excluded from school. We need to think about such exclusions because this is a difficult issue for everybody. Boards of management and patrons of schools should be specifically included in training opportunities.

“Nobody wants to see children being expelled from school or being excluded. In the UK, many children are being excluded from school and much subsequent analysis suggests that some of those children have behavioural issues that could be helped were they to receive expert help. Equally, no one wants parents to be told that their child can only be in school for an hour, that a parent has to be on the premises ready to intervene, should that be required, or be available to stay in the school if the child cannot be taken home. I like the idea of a nursing presence.

“I also am aware of a number of children who have transitioned from primary school and are now in their first year of secondary school. They are on the autism spectrum but also have difficult behavioural issues. In Castleknock, there has been no prescribing consultant psychiatrist in the Child and Adult Mental Health Service, CAHMS, panic attacks or other severe behavioural issues cannot be prescribed the medicine that may be essential to him or her to help manage his or her behaviour while attending school. The medicine prescribed can have important effects on the lives of both the child and his or her family. We are just developing knowledge in this area and not every school has access to this knowledge.

“Parents raise another issue with me all of the time. Children, in Dublin and elsewhere, are obliged to go on long bus journeys everyday. Some children may like and enjoy that. It is, however, very demanding on a child on the ASD spectrum who might have particular sensitivities to lights, movement, noise or traffic, to have to be on a bus for an hour or an hour and a half twice a day. I am sure it is something the educational experts have factored in. Parents usually welcome their child being in a special school but it is a very long journey.

“As Minister for Social Protection, I carried out a review, with the chief medical officer of the Department, on the domiciliary care allowance. It was changed at the time to specifically include the behavioural disorders that many of us have only learned of in relatively recent years. I am not sure those behavioural disorders are fully accounted for and recognised by the Department of Education and Skills. Behavioural issues, therefore, need some expert attention.

“I return to my experience in the then Department of Social Protection during the examination of the domiciliary care allowance. By consulting with various people with great experience in the field in a range of different countries, it was possible to make vast improvements in who qualified for the allowance. That took some of the pressure off of the families and gave them acknowledged support. I think the same thing is happening in the area of schools. We are at the beginning of further and better developments. I know many special needs assistants (SNAs). They give enormous support to children and are very important in the life of a school, both for the other children and for the school staff. There should be a focus on providing much more training capacity and opportunities to SNAs because many of us are aware of the great care they give to children.

“I refer also to school secretaries and the care they too give to children and to children with special needs in particular. If they can be included in the positive developments to come, that would pay major dividends in developing our understanding of how, as a society, we can best respond to special needs. That would be to everybody’s benefit.”