THERE has been a blanket ban on Government funding for special needs assistants (SNAs) imposed on crèches in North West Dublin, despite a dramatic rise in demand for the supports at pre-school level.
According to a spokesperson for the Special Needs Parents’ Association the ban means that families of tots with disabilities in the HSE catchment area will be denied a fundamental right of choice and will have to bare a significant financial burden as a result of the devastating budgetary decision.
The reasons behind the discontinuation of pre-school SNA grant support were revealed in response to a parliamentary question posed by local TD Patrick Nulty (TD).
In his response on the matter the general manager for the North West Dublin Local Health Office (LHO) said it wasn’t feasible to meet the level of demand and “provide meaningful support” and that the HSE had never provided a specific allocation for this type of support.
“The level of demand for support at pre-school level in North West Dublin had increased from one to two applications per annum in 2005 to 50 applications in 2011,” the general manager stated.
“LHO North West Dublin has never received an allocation for this form of support and the practice of supporting SNAs in pre-schools grew significantly in response to demand, but without the requisite budget or national policy to ensure this support could be provided on an on-going basis.”
According to the manager it was not possible to differentiate between the requests for support for children whose pre-school place was dependent on the presence of an SNA and those where it would be desirable but not necessarily essential for support to be provided.
The manager explained that because of this there was no way to monitor if the grant was being used for the approved purpose.
A proposed new organisational structure was another factor that led to the controversial decision as it could have led to a situation where parents in some areas could apply for the SNA pre-school support while those living in other areas could not.
According to Lorraine Dempsey of the Special Needs Parents’ Association, the blanket ban on pre-school SNAs will put a huge strain on many families.
“The impact will be generally very harshly felt by those parents who had hoped for their children to be able to attend pre-school,” she told Northside People.
“Parents will have only two choices available to them – to put their child on a lengthy waiting list for specific pre-schools or for one of the parents to give up employment to look after their child, which will have a massive financial effect on the entire family.
“But primarily the nub of the problem is that the freedom is choice is taken from these parents and their children.
“For many children pre-school offers an invaluable preparation for children entering main stream schools.
“This cut will mean that children with special needs will be isolated from the same opportunity that their peers might have.”
Deputy Patrick Nulty (Lab) who put down the parliamentary question on the matter said the blanket refusal of the SNA support grant for the local area is not a solution to the budgetary problem.
“I have spoken to some parents and crèche owners who will be affected as a result of this cut, which I believe is a blunt measure that doesn’t reflect the diverse needs of children of all abilities,” he stated.
“I believe the concerns of these parents need to be addressed.
“I also feel that the response from the HSE saying that it is difficult to assess the needs of special needs children is not adequate and that contrary to what is happening in this case there should be every investment in early education to ensure that children can be assisted on their journey to mainstream education.”