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13th May 2022

Parents demand action over Ireland’s ‘shameful’ treatment of children with disabilities

Trine Jensen-Burke

children’s disability services

A “really shameful indication” of where we are as a society.

Children with disabilities in Ireland are facing waiting lists of several years to be seen by specialists.

Earlier this week, a mother whose young son has verbal dyspraxia revealed to Newstalk Breakfast that he had to wait four-and-a-half years for his first HSE Speech and Language therapy session.

“Children with speech and language communication needs are a forgotten cohort of children because they generally don’t need to be in hospital and they don’t need expensive medication – all they need is a speech and language therapist,” explained Evelyn Byrne about her eight-year-old son Charlie.

“If you have a child with speech and language communication needs it is proven they are six times more likely to have clinical levels of anxiety, clinical levels of depression and they are going to have issues accessing the curriculum once they go into school – so difficulties with numeracy and literacy.”

She added:

“Without providing that early intervention, really you are setting the children up to fail at the earliest step. They are already at a disadvantage when entering into school so early intervention is critical and it is the only documented research available.”

Byrne was speaking as the Families Unite for Services and Support (FUSS) campaign group prepared to hold protests across the country earlier this week. The group was calling for urgent action to address the crisis within Ireland’s “grossly underfunded” children’s disability services.

‘Is this how we value our most vulnerable?’

Byrne explained that to her son, his disability has a huge impact on his everyday life.

“His world is very, very small because really, unless you are around Charlie all the time, it is incredibly difficult to understand him. So, there are safety concerns of course about Charlie around letting him be anywhere that’s not around people who understand him. Also just sitting in a classroom with around 20 other kids with a lot to say but no means of saying it – that’s a worry really for us.”

She also pointed out what a disgrace it is, having to protest and share her story – just for access to vital services for her child.

“Having to stand outside Leinster House or anywhere else to ask for basic services like occupational therapy, physio or speech and language therapy – it really is a shameful indication of where we are and how we value our most vulnerable,” Byrne said.

“Unfortunately, this is not a new news story. I mean Newstalk has been talking about this for years. We have been on this journey since 2015 and unfortunately, nobody is looking at the cost implication of not supporting our children when they need.”