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Coronovirus: Parents with special needs children at wits' end, warns watchdog

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Koulla Yiasouma

Koulla Yiasouma

Koulla Yiasouma

Parents of children with special needs are at breaking point because of lockdown and feel abandoned by Stormont, it has been warned.

Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said she has yet to see evidence that all families are seeing their needs met after special schools shut or cut back services.

"Families are pleading for help and we've heard some families saying: 'I cannot do this anymore'," she explained.

"It's not because they don't want to look after their child, it's because their child's behaviour can be very erratic, sometimes violent, and they have other children in the house.

"These parents are so exhausted and distressed and have gone from having five to six services to meet their needs to having none."

Ms Yiasouma also said she hadn't been given an indication of any services returning until sometime in September - and some families were missing out on what was available in the meantime.

She added: "I haven't been assured that those services will be up and running in any proper shape or form until September so there's a big worry that we have another two to three months of this for families who are already struggling."

The closure of most special schools has meant some families have also lost access to the other services they rely on, like speech and language therapy, Ms Yiasouma said.

She added: "A special school is a place of learning, a special school is a place of healthcare and therapeutic support.

"There's a significant worry about how these children and these families will be coming out of this, bearing in mind a lot of them will not have had the therapeutic interventions they normally would have got."

A spokesman for the Department of Education said support for vulnerable children and young people had been "central" to its response to Covid-19.

He referred to collaboration with the Department of Health, which includes a joint health and education oversight group.

He added: "Since March 23 schools have only opened for children of key workers and 'vulnerable children' which includes those with statements of special educational needs (SEN).

"All special schools have put in place provision to support remote learning and have been in contact with parents during this period.

"The Education Authority has put in place online application processes for vulnerable children including those with a statement of SEN; and children with complex and multi layered needs."

Asked what preparations were being made for special schools to reopen, he said: "The department recognises that Covid-19 has placed additional stress on vulnerable children with statements of SEN and their families and will continue to make them a key priority."

Belfast Telegraph