The Little Girl........ and The Petition.

I cautiously opened the door to the classroom and gingerly I stepped inside, quite unsure of what was to greet me.

And there they all were; the witches, the wizards and the cute little fairies; a granny, a judge, a couple of trees and various other assorted characters. Just chatting and playing as they excitedly hung out together.

No, I hadn't stepped into an alternative universe such as 'Narnia' or 'The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe'. I'd simply joined the world of school children preparing to go on stage for their end of year show.

The air was charged with 6 year old excited squeals, mixed with the older children's barely subdued 'OMG'-ness. Some were already in costume, others frantically looking for 'a pin'... 'my witch's hat'..... 'where's my crutches' .... in between strains of ... 'ow..he pulled my hair' . There was also a line of children waiting for Make-Up, and getting terribly excited to see their transformation into a pretty fairy, a scary witch - with plenty of pretty glitter, of course! - or an older adult. 

I couldn't but get caught up in their delight as I performed my own part; that of one of two classroom supervisors.

We monitored their running, squealing, hugging and lifting - yeah, lifting! - to ensure safety while they enjoyed this social gathering with their school pals, before going on stage.

And then I spotted her. The little girl, pretty in pink, fluttering around like a social butterfly from group to group and child to child. With a 'high-five' over there, a 'please swing me, my turn' over here and a spot of 'Chinese Whispers' with her acting group in the corner.

It was so charming to watch. All the children, no matter their age playing with her as requested; some even queuing up to do so!

She was a very popular little girl.

She also happened to be a little girl with Down Syndrome who was very much accepted as part of the group. See, she had the support of an SNA from when she commenced school in Junior Infants, and that helped her to learn and to integrate socially with her peers.

I thought how wonderful it was to see how all children learn social skills, tolerance and acceptance through a policy of properly supported inclusion in mainstream education.

And then I felt sad and worried for the little children with Special Education Needs starting Junior Infants this September. They won't have the valuable support of an SNA. They will have to commence school before they can apply, with no guarantee that they'll get one.

I felt so sad and worried for the little children in any class with a diagnosis of ASD , who also have a separate EBD/SEBD diagnosis and the requisite care needs. They'll have to try and subsequently fail before an application can even be made. Those ASD children without the additional diagnosis or requisite care needs won't even be considered.

While I worry about the children from 4th class on I'm extremely sad and worried for the children with Special Education Needs starting in mainstream secondary schools, they will most likely not get any SNA support at all.

I felt very sad and worried about all these children who will have to try and fail in front of their peers. I worry about the damage this will do to their confidence and self esteem and I wonder how their peers will cope with and react to this, especially those in Junior Infants. 

It really, really saddens me to think that these Departmental changes will mean that children with Special Education Needs will suffer so much and will seriously impact on how their peers will react to and accept them.

I care so much about the impact of circular 0030/2014 that I wrote this blog post and a previous one expressing my concerns:

Looking For Blue Sky cares so much that she wrote this blog-post expressing her concerns:

The community of St Anne's NS; Shankill cares so much that they set up the We Care Do You campaign on facebook and twitter. They also set up this online petition addressed to our Minister for Education and Skills.

If you are worried about the future of education in Ireland then your signature would really be appreciated. Just click on the link, it only takes 2 minutes and would mean a lot.

At the time of publishing this almost 1800 people have signed the petition.

We ALL care so much....

Do you?

The Fight for Supported Inclusion for Children with Special Education Needs .....

Successive Governments have encouraged the inclusion of Special Needs Children, where possible, in mainstream schools for many years now. Thankfully, as a result, more and more children are taking this inclusive route every year. And it can be very successful too, enriching the lives of ALL the children in the school, as this video from We Care Do You demonstrates ...

The thing is, this inclusion can only be successful if properly supported by trained and up-skilled SNAs and Resource/Learning Support Teachers. Although successive Governments have encouraged this inclusion they have also successively and increasingly cut-back on these available supports.

Every time they do this, schools rush to to re-arrange and re-schedule in a desperate attempt to spread their increasingly reduced and precious resources, to ensure that every child who needs help gets at least some. As SNAs are a school resource, and not assigned to specific pupils, this means SNAs being shared among an increasing number of pupils, and spreading themselves very thinly as they rush from class to class to give support. While successive governments may think that this is value-for-money productivity at it's best they have forgotten one tiny little fact: children with Special Needs can't always schedule their difficulties to occur to suit these shared timetables.

Sadly, our Government have recently issued circular 0030/2014 which proposes even more cuts in this area, with effect from September 2014.

This has caused upset and disbelief for many teachers, parents and support groups around the country. And not without good reason.

Teacher Catherina Woods, who is also a mum to two children with Special Needs, wrote this eloquent letter to the Irish Times last week and also this article for The She explains the impact these cuts will have in the classroom very well. This Voice For Teachers Blog explains it well too.

I am not a teacher, just a concerned parent; albeit one who has successfully navigated this inclusion route. Well so far anyway, we haven't quite reached the end of our road yet. I have read the above mentioned circular in depth and all the articles too,  and it is clear to me (and to others) that these cuts, being sold under the guise of being 'value-for-money', will have a devastating impact on ALL children in our education system.

The highlights for me are:

* Children must have an assessed disability with significant Primary Care Needs requiring assistance which must be 'way beyond that which would normally be provided by the class teacher, support teacher or other school teachers or by their fellow pupils in school'?! (Really?)

Children with behaviour related care needs will only qualify for an SNA if they have a separate Emotional Behavioural  Disorder/Severe Emotional Behavioural Disorder diagnosis - in conjunction with another disability. And let's not forget:  "SNA support should only be provided where it is clear that 
behavioural management strategies have not been successful to date and where it is 
demonstrated how access to such support can assist with ongoing planning and intervention for the child"

* Children must be "enrolled and have commenced attending school before any application for support will be made"

* The over-all responsibility for ensuring "that each pupil is taught in a stimulating and supportive classroom environment" lies with the class room teacher and that they have "a central role in identifying and responding to pupils with additional needs."

All SNA allocations will be time bound, made initially for a 3 year period, with annual reviews. And the child's Independence will be assisted by cutting back on SNA support from 4th class onwards, in preparation for Secondary school.

* As a result of the above it would seem that the child attending post-primary will then be fully independent and not in need of any SNA support unless they have "chronic and serious care needs". Instead support "will  be a combination of differentiated and additional teaching supports from class teachers, from resource/learning support teachers either though team teaching or withdrawal, and from other relevant teaching staff, as opposed to care support from an SNA." (Good luck with that....)

* "The views of the child, where possible, should therefore be taken into account in reviewing the 
extent of access to SNA support required." I agree with the child's views being considered, at second level, but they should be considered in conjunction with what's best for the child. And let's hope that  GPs and hospital doctors and surgeons don't adopt this principal.

The DES may be adamant that this circular does not mean cuts but it is hard to see how making it more difficult to access these supports does not mean a reduction in SNA posts.

Once again the barriers to even applying for this necessary and worthwhile support have been steel-edged and erected even higher than before. In particular the child in Junior Infants, and the one with challenging behaviour at any age,  must fail in order to even apply. And the classroom teacher is responsible for dealing with this while also educating them and all the other children in the classroom. I specifically worry about the child with Aspergers or Autistic Spectrum Disorder who's communication deficit causes behavioural difficulties (i.e. meltdowns) but who doesn't have a separate EBD/SEBD diagnosis, or care needs that meet the criteria.

I very much worry about the children with Special Needs attending mainstream post-primary school. For some the assistance of the Special Needs Department (if it's properly resourced with interested and up-skilled teachers) will be sufficient, but for some it will not. Independence skills may come with their growing maturity but very often so does increased anxiety levels, with high levels of school refusals and ultimate drop-outs. There is data for the former but not the latter, so I believe. Also, secondary school is far less forgiving on children with Aspergers and ASD, believe me. They will help as much as they can but ultimately their priority concern will be for the greater good.

I also worry about how far-reaching the effects of these cuts will be. Will mainstream schools cope by raising the criteria for admitting children with Special Education Needs? In which case further demand will be put on Special Needs schools, many of whom are closing or have their own admittance criteria, and are far more expensive to provide than SNAs. Will we see an increase in  the abusive use of Inclusion rooms in an effort to manage challenging behaviours? Will these cuts ultimately cause a divide between parents who have children in school with no Special Needs and those who do? And what is to happen to the teenagers who can't cope and end up quitting school entirely? Will they become dependent on our difficult to access Mental Health Services, or on substances they shouldn't? Or will they become misunderstood, juvenile delinquents in trouble with the law? And will we have the 'value-for-money' financial resources to deal with that?

This circular is yet again tightening up the rules and criteria surrounding entitlement to SNA support and 'restating and clarifying' the purpose of this scheme 'for both parents and schools'. In case any of us have forgotten: The purpose of the SNA scheme is to provide for the SIGNIFICANT CARE NEEDS which some people with Special Education Needs may have'.

And right there, in my honest opinion, is the problem.... and the possible solution. I said it before and now I'll say it again: They keep pulling this scheme back to how it was initially set up and tightening the rules to exclude more and more children who don't have 'significant care needs'. They are increasingly setting the children with SEN up to fail. Here's a radical thought: How about accepting the changes that have organically occurred to this scheme over the years, and extend it to facilitate the changing needs of the children who are now availing of inclusion in mainstream education? After all it has been very successful, as the above video - just one little example -demonstrates. Perhaps the DES and the HSE could even find a way to work together to provide the education and clinical interventions that these children need, instead of both constantly cutting these supports, without giving due consideration to the over-all devastating impact their changes can have.

If you have a child (or grandchild, niece or nephew) in school or due to start school in the next few years then this very much concerns YOU.  We need to continue to make very loud noises to keep this issue on the front page.

We Care Do You are very much trying to do that, they even have an online petition for signing.

They really do care.

Do you?



* I discussed the changes that the last DES circular in 2011 brought in my Dear Minister post, it is interesting to note that they seem to have 'cleared up' the misinterpreting of the care needs surrounding behavioural issues by inserting the 'EBD/SEBD' diagnosis stipulation.

* I shared The Story of the SNA who lost her job in 2011 here and the SNA who stayed behind here. The latter confirms my point about SNA sharing. 

Dirty Old Town?

It was a weekend of differing activities; peace and relaxation for the parents with hikes, tents, and campfires for the boy. A lovely time was had by all and the adults returned well rested and well-glowing from the heat-inducing steam room and jacuzzi. While the boy had the high colour and spirits of one who had spent some time camping in the great outdoors.

While our clothing returned as clean and intact as they were when we embarked on our trip the same cannot be said for the boy! Sodden wet and many-layered he was, with hiking boots that were adorned with what must have been half of  Wicklow bogland.

These boots were made for walking you see, and walking was exactly what they did. Through every mucky puddle, streaming rivulet and the boggiest of land they could find. 

And guess who had the 'honour' of restoring them to their former glory? Why, that would be me of course. The 'holiday' was well and truly over as the operation began! 

It took time and a lot of water to make this operation a success; a bucket filled with 2 kettle-fulls of hot water per boot with a pre and post wash hose-down. 'To boot' one might say....

As I toiled away I got to thinking about the new Water Charges being imposed on us shortly and was thankful that they weren't already in place. I thought about them again as all the muddy clothes were pre-rinsed in the sink before being machine washed and as a long hot shower was taken to restore heat and health to cold and wet teenage bones. 

Water is a natural resource, that costs a lot to transform into the drinking quality that currently flows freely through our taps. Perhaps there are some merits to charges being put in place to ensure conservative use, and to pay for the leaky pipes that allows litres of our precious natural resource to seep away. And us living in one of the rainiest countries in the world.

Of course I don't believe that's why these charges are being put in place. We are still doing what we are told to do by the Troika and IMF (As a now senior Politician once said of the IRA: 'they haven't [really] gone away you know) and seemingly turning what should be a public service into a profitable business? For future re-sale? 

Nor do I totally agree with the ex-politician who recently likened it to paying for satellite TV. At least with satellite TV you get to choose a provider and a package that suits your budget, or you can simply invest in a once off payment.

Some of us can make choices with our waste collection providers too.

It did take a while and after a rebellion by a lot of citizens eventually, we as a nation, did accept the waste collection charges. Even though initially some did try to dispose of their waste themselves by dead of night, either in fields and hedgerows or in their neighbours newly obtained wheelie bins!

I predict that our nation as a whole will find creative ways to conserve our water usage. Whether we're paying for it or not it is right that we do conserve. It's how we're going to do it that really concerns me.

I suspect (at least I hope!) that there are many of my generation who had to conserve hot water and heating, and who cowered in fear of the bellowed words 'who left that immersion on?! Daily toilettes and regular showers are more our routine, although our children do get more than just a weekly bath. (Please note though, no-one should ever under-estimate the restorative powers and sensory inputs of a long daily shower after an exhausting school day. (It is an absolute necessity for some ASD kids.)

We really don't like to waste stuff so this conservation lark comes naturally to us, although no doubt we will now strive to do some more.

How else do we cut back though? We already only use the dish washer and washing  machine when they're full. Forgive me but, do we treat the toilet in the same way and only flush when it's full too? After all it is estimated that it could cost you €163 per annum with 3 people flushing 4 times a day. 

Do we use the same bucket of hot water to wash all floors instead of changing when it gets too dirty to be of any benefit? Do we then cut back on how well we clean the mop afterwards, and all our cleaning cloths? Cut back on the quick pre-rinsing of dishes and pots and pans so that they're never cleaned properly? We can certainly cut out rinsing our waste recycling. Or how about barely cleaning that chopping board after it's been used to chop raw chicken?

Perhaps we can shower less often too, or perhaps share the same personal washing water?

I fear that these are some of the methods that will be employed by our cash-strapped citizens and that should be of real concern for those enforcing these costs on us.

And how on earth do our  hospitals, who are seriously over-budget, afford to pay for any water charges let alone reduced ones?? Any water conservation in our hospitals could have disastrous consequences. I would hope that our hospitals will have a waiver, but what about other care facilities e.g. nursing homes? 

These were the thoughts coursing through my mind as I did the post-scout weekend clean up. 
Coincidentally within 3 hours of completing this task, and also after unwittingly picking up some suspect feline nastiness, I suddenly became mysteriously ill and was in bed with a very sick tummy for 24 hours. I did wash my hands and of course it could have just been a tummy bug, or a delayed reaction from donating blood the previous week, but no-one else in my house became ill. It really brought this whole issue home for me.

So yes, perhaps it is as right that we pay for our water as we do our waste collections.

However it is not only right but essential that our water conservation is not counter-productive, making us ill in the process. 

We absolutely must ensure cleanliness in the household and in our hospitals and care facilities.

Otherwise our whole nation is at risk at becoming a 'Dirty Old Town'

And that would not be good.


It's Good to Give.....

And it's been quite a while since I've given.

Fifteen years to be precise; a child and a whole life full of changes later.

It was easy to give back then - The Blood Bank bus collected and returned us to the workplace.

But now the workplace is my own home, and although my intentions were good, a very busy home life kinda got in the way.

However a few weeks ago I finally took the bull by the horns as it were, and finally just walked into a relatively local Blood Bank branch to make that appointment. The appointment to donate some of my life's blood so that it be available to give life to another, if needed. But would they want me back? Would my since-aged blood be good enough?

Well, I was certainly welcomed back by the lovely and very understanding staff, who were easily able to access my details from all that time ago, and a suitable appointment was swiftly made. One that fit in very well with my new busy life of mummy jobs and school pick-ups. And it turns out I'm not that old for giving blood.. you can give blood if over 70, in certain circumstances!

When the day itself dawned I didn't pay much heed to the deed to be done. It was simply added to that day's to-do list.... you know, the usual running around with a quick trip to the gym squeezed in en route - Oops.

It was only when I crossed the threshold that I began to feel a little anxious - 'why the hell did I agree to this' type of thing. And when I get anxious or nervous I make jokes and talk. A lot!

But the staff are used to this I reckon and they welcomed me again and thanked me for coming; as did each person I came in contact with that day. As it was my first donation in such a long time I was given some literature to read, forms to fill in and was sent in for a quick interview and pin-prick on the finger blood test with the nurse.

Some things have changed but mostly it's similar. You are no longer prohibited from giving blood by being on blood pressure medication though, once it's under control and you're well established on the medications. And cholesterol medications don't prohibit you either.

I was given instructions on correct procedures before and after donating; drink lots of water, have a good night's sleep and get plenty of rest. And that means no, you do not attend a gym on the day of your donation, nor do you organise a dance lesson for a group of friends later the same day - Oops.... again!!

With my haemoglobin at a very good level it was soon time to get the deed done, and then the nervousness really hit. I told them how I felt and they made me feel very much at ease. They talked to me. A lot. Which suited me perfectly fine! After a while I did feel some tightness and tingling in my hand, which would have been understandable had it not been on the opposite hand to the one from which the donation was been taken! It was a bit confounding and it was put down to my earlier trip to the gym.

Within ten minutes my fast flowing blood donation was complete and I was brought to get some post-donation sustenance. The advice was sweet and salty to restore blood sugars and lost salts. These were doctor's orders I was prepared to ditch the diet for and absolutely followed to the letter, Well, I haven't had a Twix in years!

So, I finally donated and lived to tell the tale, and I really appreciated the follow-up 'thank you' text that I received today. Although I did give the dance lesson last night I kept it very short - I know, I know I shouldn't have but I didn't want to disappoint! I rested when I could today, when the tiredness hit and totally avoided the gym.

It was a really good experience, one that I very much intend on repeating in three months time, and this time I will follow the advice that I am now aware of. I am so glad that I did this, especially on the Thursday leading up to the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Check this link for the current Blood Supply levels

Do you think you could donate to boost these levels?

It doesn't matter how long it's been since you last donated, you'll be welcomed back with open arms. Remember though..... avoid the gym/exercise completely on the day!

#GiveBlood #GiveLife