Wednesday 18 September 2019

Mum's fears for autistic son after €500k cut to special needs class

Cliodhna Cusack and her son Ciaran
Cliodhna Cusack and her son Ciaran

Emma Jane Hade and Brian Byrne

THERE are mounting fears that a county's only special needs pre-school class will close, after €500,000 funding to its centre was cut by the HSE.

One parent said she was "terrified" to learn of the €500,000 cut to services at St Catherine's Association and how it might affect her autistic son.

Dr Ian Grey, the interim manager and director of services at St Catherine's, this week wrote to the parents of the young people who use the Co Wicklow-based service and informed them of the HSE's decision.

He said that the school was informed of the decision to withdraw just over 9pc of its funding in writing last week, and was told that the cut would take immediate effect.

Cliodhna Cusack's eight-year-old son Ciaran (inset, with his mother) has autism, speech dyspraxia and an intellectual disability and has been using services provided by St Catherine's Association for almost five years. He has received a wide variety of services including education in life skills and speech, occupational and psychological therapy. Ciaran also gets transport to and from school, and respite. Cliodhna said she was "terrified" to hear of a €500,000 cut to services.

St Catherine's Association provides care to clients who have intellectual and other disabilities for over 250 families in Co Wicklow. A spokesperson for the HSE said that the voluntary organisation, which is run with a charitable status, receives funds to provide "health-related services to its clients".

The school said that the special needs class for pre-school children with complex conditions now comes under threat, as the HSE told them that they were citing a working document which details that all children should be in mainstream school.

However, this working document also said that specialist schools are required for "really complex kids".

Senior HSE figures met with representatives from the school on Thursday evening, and they said that their priority is to "protect the disability services that the children attending St Catherine's Association receive".

Dr Grey said that the "meeting was constructive", and they are expecting to enter into negotiations over funding in the next couple of weeks.

Irish Independent

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