Stormont protest as cutbacks threaten music therapy for special needs children
Parents of children with severe learning difficulties marched on Stormont yesterday in a bid to stop cuts to music therapy provision in special schools.
Around 600 children and young people across Northern Ireland are at risk of losing the service because of budget cuts.
Families gathered at the steps of Stormont in protest and to hand over petitions, which gained 8,000 signatures of support, to MLAs.
It came moments before politicians entered the Assembly to debate the new Budget.
Around 300 parents and children walked the mile-long stretch of Prince of Wales Avenue to Parliament Buildings, chanting, singing, blowing horns and waving placards.
Parents and teachers from eight special needs schools were there, representing the 18 which could lose music therapy classes.
Banners and placards with slogans ‘The first cut is the deepest’, ‘Our silence is not golden’ and ‘Don’t take my voice’ were held by parents and youngsters alike.
They say the service is vital for
their children, many of whom cannot communicate verbally.
Taking part in the protest, Rosemary Lunn from Dunmurry, whose nephew Christopher Crockett receives music therapy at Orchardville Training and Resource Centre, said: “The music therapy he receives calms him and helps him to express himself in a positive way; to take this away would be an absolute disgrace.”
Martina Moore from Castlereagh said: “Music is the only thing that motivates these kids and they are taking it away, this is totally unfair.”
Her feelings were echoed by other parents who said their children are now able to communicate in some form, concentrate and learn better, and simply relax after receiving music therapy.
They said music therapy is not given the same respect here as it is in other parts of the UK.
Fiona Davidson, executive director of the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, said the
service is “essential” for development, life-skills, and mental health.
“It’s very small steps, but you maximise what small potential they do have, because that’s what they have. You can’t concentrate on what they can’t do, you have to concentrate on what they can do and maximise that,” she said.
“We have been providing this service for eight years; there are many children going to special schools who have not known going without a music therapist.”
During the protest, MLAs for the electoral wards the schools fall under came out to show their support and receive the petitions.
Ulster Unionist Robert Coulter said the service was “absolutely vital”, and the Stormont Executive should not be allowed to “deprive our children”.
The SDLP’s Thomas Burns said cutting funding to the schools was “the lowest of the low”.
“It gives a terribly bad image of Northern Ireland that these people have to come up to Stormont to protest about lack of funding for vulnerable children,” he said.