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'They're both excelling': Reform in child disability services begins to show signs of success

West Cork was one of the first places in the country to start this new service and families say they would be lost without it.

Image: Co-Action

SEVEN YEARS AGO, the HSE established a national programme to improve the way services for children with disabilities are provided.

The changes made as part of this programme have started to trickle down and while there are still large gaps in many areas of the country, some families have been reaping the benefits.

Dearbhla Gilda from Dunmanway in Co Cork has two children who are on the autism spectrum - eight-year-old Gearoid and Martha who is six.

The children are availing of speech and language and occupational therapies as well as a psychology service.

Gearoid was diagnosed at the age of four, but had been in early intervention services at the age of 3.

“We were actually blessed, especially with Gearoid because his speech and language delay was picked up at 22 months and we jumped on it with the public health nurse and got him into primary care for speech and language therapy,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“Then we filtered into the system here and it’s on our doorstep. That made it stress-free apart from coming to terms with what we were dealing with.”

Gilda and her husband were given the chance to do the programme’s early bird programme for parents, which is an eight-week course of 2.5 hours a day.

She said was “fabulously enlightening”.

It opened up our eyes to what we were facing. Everything was up in the air for quite a long time and were facing something new where we’d have to adapt the environment to suit the situation. Everything you might have thought parenting was is thrown on its head and you’re taking a different route. You’re taking on a lot of opinions, people giving you what they think would be helpful opinions that aren’t helpful at all.

Gearoid and Martha both avail of therapies through what is called the West Cork Child Development Services (WCCDS), which involves a partnership between the HSE and local services provided by Co-Action.

West Cork was one of the first places in the country to start this new service which caters for 598 children aged up to 18 who have complex needs.

Service manager Hazel Trudgill said the intention is that this package of services, which is centred around the needs of each individual child, will be rolled out nationally.

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“There is easy access to the teams. The take the referral and once the child is accepted, they are seen within three months of the initial assessment,” she said.

One important feature, she explained, was how close the services were to the children.

“Children who need Enable Ireland services would have had to travel to Cork [city] for it, now they can access our service and Enable provide us with support here. A child in Bantry can be seen in a local clinic, the child and family centre there,” she said.

“In our situation, getting a child to sit in a car for more than 15 minutes is a big deal,” Gilda told TheJournal.ie.

As part of this combined package of services, some of the therapists who work with Gearoid and Martha also visited their schools to offer support and advice to staff.

“They’re both excelling,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine them [the service providers] not being in our lives, honest to God. We’ve made big efforts as parents to educate ourselves but it’s always great to know there is someone else in your corner.”

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