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'Her shoes are falling apart': Parents call for clarity on buying children's shoes

Parents whose children wear splints, known as AFOs, have been having particular issues finding suitable shoes.

An AFO splint on a two-year-old's foot - the shoe must take the size of the AFO into account.
An AFO splint on a two-year-old's foot - the shoe must take the size of the AFO into account.

PARENTS ARE CALLING on the government for clarity on buying ‘essential’ children’s shoes in stores – especially in the case of children who require foot splints.

Speaking to The Journal, parents of children who require special orthotics to help their mobility development say they have been forced to buy multiple pairs of shoes online in order to find one that fits. 

Parents whose children do not require orthotics have also said that they are unable to find proper-fitting shoes and need access to measurement services in shoe shops.

The parents who spoke to The Journal said that while they understood shoe shops might not be able to be opened for casual browsing, they are hoping the government could allow shoe shops to open for appointments. 

June Shannon, a health journalist, bought her five-year-old daughter a new pair of shoes at Christmas, but they are already too small. She said that she and her husband can’t buy shoes online as they don’t know how to measure her daughter’s feet properly.

In the meantime, her daughter is wearing shoes given to her by a family friend. “They are too big for my daughter but they do fit,” she said.

Shannon said that the family were able to buy a pair of plimsolls in Dunnes for her daughter, but that these aren’t very supportive. “I believe children’s shoes are essential,” said Shannon. “I think there’s no clarity [from government], no joined-up thinking. Some shops have runners on sale, other shops don’t – there’s no consistency across the board.

You can buy Easter eggs and cuddly toys for Easter but you can’t buy shoes for your children. It seems to me to be ridiculous.

Shannon also said there is a “presumption that parents have enough money to go online and buy a pair of children’s shoes and send them back if they don’t fit. A lot of people are struggling financially right now.”

She added: “Some families don’t have the ability to shop online, they need to go into a shop. They could do it safely; they could do pre-booked appointments.”

“I am all in favour of following all public health guidelines, but there has to be some thinking around practicalities surrounding raising kids.”

At least one Dublin children’s shoe shop says on its Instagram page it is open for “essential fittings by appointment only”, although the same shop said in December that it was finishing fittings due to the return of Level 5 restrictions. 

In addition, parents have shared online that some large supermarket stores do have children’s clothes and shoes for sale in some branches.

However, the government’s guidance on Level 5 restrictions does not say that clothing stores or shoe shops are allowed open.

It does say that the following stores (amongst others named in the list) are allowed open:

  • Outlets selling health, medical or orthopaedic goods in a specialised outlet, whether on a retail or wholesale basis.

Ankle-foot orthosis braces

In the case of children who require ankle-foot orthosis, or AFOs, it can be particularly tricky to buy shoes as the AFOs are larger than the child’s foot.

Parent of a daughter who uses AFOs Susan Daly, who works with Journal Media, explained:

“My daughter is two and has low muscle tone in her feet and ankles, which is quite typical in children with Down Syndrome. She requires AFOs (ankle-foot orthosis); medically-fitted leg braces to give her the support she needs to walk.

“It was a mad dash to the shops just before Christmas to find shoes that would fit over and around the AFOs, with her foot inside. We went to three different shops and tried on perhaps a dozen pairs before we found a single pair that was suitable.”

She explained that the shoes “have to open up wide enough to allow the AFO to go in and be deep enough to accommodate the hard sole of the AFO, plus the child’s foot and the socks she has to wear to prevent blisters from the device”.

Daly said that the shoes have been used everyday since and are falling apart, “but since children’s shoes are not deemed an essential in-person purchase, we’ve had to try to replace them online”.

However, she described this as “a near impossible task because it isn’t a simple case of measuring the child’s foot or even the footprint of the AFO”.

It’s not enough for parents to use a measuring tape, she said. 

“Children’s feet are so susceptible to damage if not supported correctly as they develop; in our case, it’s an actual medical need,” said Daly.

Daly said that the government needs to look at its list of essential purchases “and be very clear on where they would rank catering to children’s physical development on that scale”.

‘Lack of clarity’

This call was echoed by Dr Jennifer Mitchell, who also lives in Dublin. She has a four-year-old child who has mobility issues and uses AFOs. She said that she fears if she cannot replace the shoes soon, her child will be prevented from walking.

She said that with the AFOs, it’s harder to judge the growth of children’s feet and when a new pair of shoes is needed. Though she bought a pair of shoes in a larger size before Christmas for her daughter, she already needs a new pair. 

While the AFO is provided by the HSE, the shoes must be bought separately.

Mitchell said there is a “lack of clarity” around the issue, as some people have told her that it is possible to get children’s feet measured for shoes in some shops.

“I assumed all shops were closed,” said Mitchell. “It’s this lack of messaging [that is the issue]. It’s hard enough for people to buy shoes, but for people whose kids are in AFOs, not knowing and not having clarity as to whether they can make an appointment at a shoe shop [is difficult].

“I just assumed that I had no options. It shouldn’t be word of mouth that the odd shop here and there has the service.”

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She added that overall, “there should be clarity on children’s essentials and clothes – they  shouldn’t be restricted”. She said her own daughter has grown five inches in the last year. 

Mitchell said that it is “unnecessary stress on top of everything else”, adding:

I think there needs to be more parents feeding into the [government] decision-making process, more parents with young kids, because a lot of the restrictions are excessively punitive on people with small kids. Because they grow so much you do need more access to clothes, healthcare, and shoes. People are having issues – it’s magnified for people with splints.

One children’s shoe shop which is open is Kubus in Clonsilla, Dublin, which stocks orthopaedic shoes and slippers. 

Staff member Sylvia from Kubus said today that they have “a lot” of customers looking for shoes suitable to wear with AFOs.

They are very busy, she said. Normally customers would come from across Dublin and neighbouring counties, but the shop is currently affected by the 5k rule.

Restrictions

There has been little clarity over the issue of children’s clothing and shoes being sold under level 5 restrictions.

These types of stores are not mentioned on the list of stores that are allowed open under Level 5.

However, in October, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that people can call retailers and collect items they need, and he also added that retailers should take “a compassionate approach” to these issues.  

A spokesperson at the Department of Business also said at the time that retailers “can and have made arrangements on compassionate grounds”. 

The issue over the sale of clothes had been raised that month after Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise Damien English said that clothes are “not essential” purchases during Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions. 

Under the current restrictions, click and collect cannot take place.

The Taoiseach is set to make an announcement at 6pm this evening on the loosening of restrictions, following a Cabinet meeting today and a Cabinet sub-committee meeting yesterday.

Ministers discussed at yesterday’s meeting the possibility of a return to click and collect, but the full reopening of retail is not on the cards for now. For parents who need to buy children’s shoes, that means their options will remain limited.

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