A DERRY mother has spoken of the stress experienced while waiting “years” to have her 5-year-old daughter’s special needs assessment processed by the Education Authority.
It comes after a whistleblower who worked at Education Authority (EA) offices this week revealed that he was advised to mislead the public as to when applications were received by the government body.
In July, the Derry News also highlighted a crisis in special needs education in Northern Ireland.
Special needs assessments determine whether children with disabilities should be given help and support to enable them to go to school.
The EA has a responsibility to deal with those applications within a specific time frame. However, the staff member claims that in order to delay the process he was told he shouldn’t stamp files because the dates they were received would be known.
This means that some of the most vulnerable children in NI were being overlooked and failed, including many children in Derry.
Cheryl Campbell lives in Derry and her daughter, Caoimhe, has “complex special needs”.
The 5-year-old was forced to wait two years for the one to one care she requires. It meant that during her vitally important formative years as a child she missed out on a large chunk of Primary 1.
Ms Campbell explained: “She goes to the Model Primary. She has chromosome deletion which means she’s missing two chromosomes in her genetics (7q31.1 and 15q11.2) she is diagnosed ASD with possible ADHD. The deletions cause all sorts of neurodevelopmental delay, speech delay, behaviour disorder etc. She’s a very unique girl.”
Waiting for the application to be processed by the Education Authority amounted to a “stressful few years”, she said.
“Caoimhe was statemented in October 2017. We only now got her full time hours so she missed a large chunk of P1 due to her needing her own 1-1 who she was sharing with a non-verbal boy, both high risk children until that happened the school couldn’t keep her all day then she had to up her times every few weeks to let her settle in longer days.
“She was awarded a shared 1-1 classroom assistant and full-time hours. Quickly realising she needed her own 1-1 and not getting full time hours due to this, the school told us we had to appeal to the EA which took months.
“Eventually we got her own 1-1 but still never got the full-time hours until the last 2 weeks of June there. She’s just started P2 yesterday and now has full-time hours and her 1-1.”
This support is evaluated by the EA on an annual basis; Ms Campbell is therefore fearful that this essential one to one care could be removed in the future.
For the time being she is “delighted” that her daughter will be able to learn more “as her reading and writing is way behind due to not being at school.” It will also benefit Caoimhe’s social skills as she will learn from and interact with other young children, Ms Campbell added.

‘Absolute right’

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma said every child across Northern Ireland, including those with additional or special educational needs has an “absolute right” to a quality education.
“One that fully develops their talents, skills and abilities. It is not acceptable for any child to miss out, through no fault of their own, on any part of their education particularly the start of a new school year.
“The volume of complaints by parents whose children have not received the services they require highlights the need for immediate improvements to be made and long-term solutions to be identified.”
She continued: “That is why I am carrying out an independent, rights-based assessment so that we can better understand the complexities and issue recommendations to the relevant authorities in the New Year.
“The experiences of parents, carers and practitioners continue to inform the Review and I encourage anyone who feels that they have been dealt with inadequately by the Education Authority, or any other statutory agency, to contact my office.”

20,000 children

When a child is referred to EA’s Special Educational Team, it considers all relevant reports relating to the child’s needs. If a statutory assessment has commenced, professional advice will be sought from the school, educational psychology, health and the parents.
The EA told the Derry News that the Statutory Assessment Process typically takes around 26 weeks from commencement to completion. Prior to completion it is important that the parent and the receiving school are in agreement in relation to how the child’s needs will be met.
Over the past 4 years, the number of cases coming forward for assessment by the EA has increased. This is related to more children being identified with special educational needs who require longer term support.
The EA currently has over 20,000 children with Statements of Special Educational Needs. Each year around 2,000 will be issued with Statements of Special Educational Needs.
In a statement to this paper, a spokesperson for the Education Authority (EA) said its Special Education team “works hard” to support children with a range of special educational needs throughout Northern Ireland on a daily basis.
She added: “EA is built on a culture of openness, equality and respect for all. We strive to deliver excellence in all that we do and are committed to transparency and accountability in the delivery of our services.
“We are treating the anonymous concerns with the utmost seriousness and are currently looking into the matters raised.”

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