A school for the deaf in Dublin is set to lose its only speech and language therapist, under a HSE reshuffle of disability services.
Parents and staff at the Holy Family School for the Deaf in Cabra have warned that their on-site therapist offers a “critical” service for their children.
However, the HSE has decided to redeploy the one they have as part of its move towards ‘Children’s Disability Network Teams’ (CDNT) in the community.
School Principal Eimear O'Rourke is appealing to the HSE to rethink the move.
“It will be very difficult to communicate this loss to our children and staff in the school,” she said.
“I will have children missing days from school because they will have to go and access speech and language therapy in the community.
“So, I might not see those children in school for a few days because they are travelling long distances and parents have to take an appointment when it is given to them.
“That is a huge loss for those children who have already missed so much time over the last 18 months. It is another disappointment on top of what we have already experienced this year.”
Children’s Disability Network Teams
Under the new HSE plan, 96 CDNTs will be opened up around the country – offering children the services they need all in the one place.
Many parents support the plan; however, they warn that it should complement the service in the school rather than replace it.
Ms O’Rourke said the school therapist works with around half her 140 students on an ongoing basis – and it makes very little sense to pull such an important resource from those who rely on it.
“You can imagine for deaf children how critical speech and language therapy is,” said Ms O’Rourke.
“Most people’s image of a speech and language therapist is just one-to-one provision but deaf children need a lot of support to take the learning they bring form those sessions into the classroom and back to the family home.
“Repetition and practice is vital for those children so the loss of that support for our children is critical and extremely disappointing.”
Parents have also voiced fears that their children will now have to join extremely long waiting list to access therapy in the community.
It was revealed this week that around 25,000 children are waiting on an initial assessment or initial appointment.
Around 8,000 of these are waiting longer than one year.
A further 18,500 are awaiting further therapy with more than 6,000 waiting longer than one year.
Irish Sign Language
Siobhan Corcoran, Chair of the Parents Association at the school said therapists in the community often don’t have the necessary skills to work with deaf children – and many are not proficient in Irish Sign Language (ISL).
“Many of them don’t understand the requirements for a deaf student – which are very different to other children who might need speech and language support,” she said.
“Normally, it might be speech-related but for us, it is very much about language development and developing a language with the support of ISL.
“It is an isolated appointment when you go to primary care. The therapists you meet, it might be the first deaf person, child or young adult they have ever met and yet they are expected to be able to give therapy to them.”
Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said she has raised the issue at Government level and directly asked the junior minister for children’s disabilities Anne Rabbitte to intervene.
“I've appealed to the HSE to pause the redeployment until a satisfactory solution can be found for the school,” she said.
"I appreciate that the HSE are trying to improve disability services for children by centralising where those services are going to be made available but the reality for the School for the Deaf on the Navan Road is that the loss of the specialist on-site speech and language therapy service will have a profound impact on that school.
“The parents, teachers and board of the school have been very clear that the SLT service is integral to the delivery of education in the school and to the progress of children there.”