‘One size fits all approach does not work in special education’ – McFadden
Longford/Westmeath Fine Gael TD, Gabrielle McFadden, has expressed her outrage at how St Christopher’s school has been treated over the reduction in the allocation of its Special Needs Assistants.
“I think it is absolutely outrageous,” said Deputy Gabrielle McFadden, speaking after the school’s appeal to have the number of special needs staff reinstated to 2013 levels was turned down.
“This Government has funded SNAs to record levels. There are now 12,050 Special needs assistants employed, compared with 10,500 in the last administration. St Christopher’s should be seeing the benefit of this increase, and I intend to ensure that it does.
“I spoke with the School Principal, Sheila Dinnegan, and she explained that while the numbers of pupils attending the school has remained the same, the needs of some of the children currently enrolled in the school are substantial and significantly more than many of its recently graduated pupils. The pupils who enrolled recently have tended to have much more complex needs, including autism, challenging behaviours and fragile medical needs.
“Ms Dinnegan told me that there was only a cursory review process before the school’s appeal was denied. A review of a situation like this cannot be cursory. Someone coming to do a review should spend time here, should engage with the pupils and the teachers, and see what the day to day running of the school is like to have a proper understanding of the challenges faced.
“A one size fits all approach simply does not work in special education. Each pupil is an individual and has individual needs.
“My husband, Dr Brian McClean, is a clinical psychologist who works regularly with the staff and clients of St Christopher’s. So I know at first hand that if children are not given enough supports to help their individual needs at the start, their challenges increase and so does the stress and distress that their families face.
“The reduction in Special Needs Assistants at St Christopher’s has also created a terribly stressful situation for staff and I applaud them for their efforts to continue to do their work with these children so admirably under such difficult circumstances.
“St Christopher’s is a wonderful facility. I have supported St Christopher’s any way I could as an elected TD for Longford. When the HSE threatened to close a group home in St Christopher’s a year ago, I fought hard to ensure that the funding stayed in place, and as a result, no service has had to close.
“I fully intend to continue this fight. I have directly pressed the Minister on this issue on a number of occasions and am going to continue to question the minister. I am going to find out on what grounds this decision has been made. And I am going to ask for the decision to be reversed, even until September, when a proper, thorough review can be undertaken.
“St Christopher’s needs adequate resource to continue their excellent and vital work. Families shouldn’t have to fight so hard every time to ensure their vulnerable and in need children are looked after. How we treat our most vulnerable as a society is a measure of how Christian we are, and this simply isn’t good enough.”