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Wednesday 22 May 2019

'It's not the end' - Mum of girl (2) with special needs vows to keep fighting against preschool cuts

'Réiltín has Down Syndrome, learning difficulties and is profoundly deaf... parents know their children best and know when they should be sent to school'

Pat, Ciara, Dearbhla and Réiltín
Pat, Ciara, Dearbhla and Réiltín
Sisters Dearbhla (4) and Réiltín (2)
Reid sisters Dearbhla and Réiltín
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A mum-of-two has vowed to keep protesting against proposed cuts to an early education scheme for children with special needs.

Ciara Reid said Children's Minister Katherine Zappone's decision to "pause" the proposed cuts is a "little bit of good news", but it won't halt their campaign.

The proposed cuts mean that parents of young children with special needs will not be able to spread their Early Childhood Care and Education scheme (ECCE) hours over an extra year in preschool, under the overage exemption.

Families affected created a group on Facebook and Whatsapp and began a campaign to put pressure on Zappone to reverse the department's decision.

On Wednesday, the minister's department "paused" the planned cuts pending consultation with parents' groups.

But, Ciara said a "pause is just a pause".

Sisters Dearbhla (4) and Réiltín (2)
Sisters Dearbhla (4) and Réiltín (2)

Mum to Dearbhla (4) and little Réiltín (2), who has special needs, Ciara said her priority is her children's best interests.

"Everyone is in agreement, it's a pause, it's not the end, there is still the possibility that this is going to be cut," Ciara said.

"Réiltín has Down Syndrome, learning difficulties and is profoundly deaf.

"I was hoping to send her to preschool when she's just turning four.

Reid sisters Dearbhla and Réiltín
Reid sisters Dearbhla and Réiltín

"Without the overage exemption, there would be pressure for Réiltín to start school next September.

"Not only would we not get a school at such last-minute, but we know it wouldn't be in her best interests.

"Réiltín has cochlear implants. She has only been hearing for eight weeks now but her comprehension is amazing, the difference it has made.

"But she still has so much to learn, I genuinely don't think she would be suitable for preschool next September.

"She's not walking. We understand her, we know how she communicates, but nobody else really does."

Ciara said her personal situation has been resolved with the pausing of the cuts for next September, but she said she is determined to continue fighting on behalf of other parents in a similar situation.

"The one thing we were never told when we found out we were having a child with Down Syndrome was that we would be entering the most amazing community.

"These cuts are paused, but we have hundreds of friends who are nine, 10, 12, 24 months younger than Réiltín.

"While I'm off the hook for next September, plenty of other children aren't.

"The overall message is parents know their children, and parents want the best for their child."

Speaking to Independent.ie earlier week, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Disability Margaret Murphy O'Mahony TD said she was delighted with the move to suspend the cuts.

"Most children with special needs get there in the end, it just takes a little bit longer," she said.

"Parents use the extra year to their advantage, it means kids are on the same playing field in national school and it's fairer.

"Parents of children with special needs have enough going on, they don't need this extra hassle on top of everything else.

Minister Zappone said she was contacted by many parents concerned about the impact of the changes.

In a statement, she said; "Everyone is entitled to be heard as we continue our path to truly accessible affordable quality childcare – that is the very core of my approach.

"However I have become increasingly aware that parents, who must be central to decisions concerning their children, are concerned about the changes planned from September 2018."

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