Criticising the opposition for continuing to “play politics with the SNA issue”, Fine Gael's spokesperson on social protection Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has called for parents of children with special needs to be the Government's central focus by providing specialised help and support.
“I have discussed this issue with schools and parents here and in the UK and the consensus is that parents are the missing piece in the special needs' jigsaw. The SNA is only part of the picture. We need to work more closely with parents of children with special educational needs (SEN ) from the moment of diagnosis, so they are enabled to help their child. At school level the Department of Education should be the lead agency on the issue. For example, the Department’s own report points to the fact that a large proportion of the SNAs are allocated to children with behavioural difficulties. Much as schools play a vital role in supporting children with special needs, parents have the child for 17 or 18 hours a day. To ignore their influence in the SEN child's life is to miss the point.
“Behavioural difficulties are a concern both in the home and in the school. Simply allocating SNAs in school is unlikely to change the child’s overall behaviour. Working with parents is a critical missing piece in the total picture. Jim Mulkerrins, Department of Education’s head of special education, agreed with me on this point at last week's Oireachtas Education committee,” she said.
Senator Healy Eames further explained that ideally the National Council for Special Education (NCSE ) should be involved from the time of diagnosis and be equipped to guide parents to the range of support services, advice and training available across all departments. However, the senator said that parents are frequently left “floundering” and having to find out about every support themselves.
“To further improve the SEN child's educational potential in the classroom, the NCSE should invest in their mainstream class teachers by providing training in basic psychometric testing and learning interventions appropriate to the various diagnoses. The ultimate educational responsibility for the child with special needs rests with the classroom teacher, not the SNA. Specialist training of this nature will save critical learning time in the child's life and inform the teacher in how to create effective evidence-based learning interventions.
“While part of the answer may lie in providing SNAs, it is only one part of the care picture. To do our SEN children justice in the area of education, we must be responsible and invest in the key providers, namely the parent and the teacher. I will be raising this matter again with Minister Ruairi Quinn in the Education debate on Tuesday, November 8,” said Senator Healy Eames.