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Parents' shock at €500k cut to disability services for children

St Catherine’s Association said it did not receive any prior notice that the funds were to be cut.

Image: Young girl

PARENTS WHOSE CHILDREN avail of disability services from an association in Co Wicklow are shocked to hear that the HSE has cut its funding by €500k.

They now fear that they won’t be able to get pre-school intervention for their children with intellectual and physical disabilities, and that a range of other services will be affected.

The HSE has told St Catherine’s Association that it is to withdraw just over 9% of its funding (€500k) this year.

The association has served the people of Co Wicklow for more than 40 years, caring for children from all over the country, from birth to the age of 18.

How parents were informed

A letter from Dr Ian Grey, the Acting General Manager and Director of Services, to parents said that the HSE has confirmed that it will no longer provide funding for any early intervention classes in St Catherine’s Association.

However, it will continue to fund the students in St Catherine’s who are already attending HSE-funded preschool classes for one year, ending in June 2015.

In the letter, which was seen by TheJournal.ie, Dr Grey said that the association is entirely reliant on funds received from the HSE to deliver its services that come under the remit of the HSE.

He said that the association:

did not receive from the HSE prior written notification of this cut prior to its implementation.

The cut will “have very serious and far reaching consequences” for the association and parents, said Dr Grey in the letter.

He added that the HSE “claims that St Catherine’s Association spends the amount outlined above (€500k) for education purposes and the HSE does not provide and will not fund educational services”.

St Catherine’s believes that the figures used in this respect are inaccurate and “flawed”. It has written to the HSE about this.

“If the HSE do not reverse the cut to core funding, the association will no longer be able to provide the level of service it has traditionally delivered to our clients and their families,” said Dr Grey in his letter.

A review of all its services is now required, and areas that will be affected by the cuts are: speech and language therapy, psychology, nursing, physiotherapy and respite.

Parents are worried

Tara Gorman is a parent whose daughter Sarah avails of St Catherine’s Association’s services.

Gorman is secretary of the parents’ association and said that not only will the cuts affect students availing of the association’s facilities, but also children who are in St Catherine’s special school who go to the association for therapies.

“250 families use the service of St Catherine’s, and it is not solely people from Wicklow,” she said.

Her daughter, who has Down syndrome, has been with the association since birth and is in the special school.

The family were just about to avail of respite for Sarah but this will be affected, as will occupational therapy sessions for her, said her mother.

She is concerned about the long-term effect this could have for her daughter.

Fear and anxiety

Gorman held a meeting of parents at the weekend, and said “the mood was of fear and anxiety”.

She said that some had been in touch with other preschools to see if they could take in their children, and were told they were full.

“We don’t know what supports will come,” she said.

“The HSE’s own policy document states that they do fund preschool for children with complex needs. We would argue that these children who are being affected are children with complex needs,” said Gorman.

The parents are writing to the HSE with their personal stories and are also forwarding these onto the Taoiseach.

The parents are unhappy with the timing of the cut from the HSE, given the recent Cabinet reshuffle. Discussions are believed to be ongoing between the school and the HSE on the issue of the cuts.

With seven weeks before the school year begins, parents are anxious to find out what is ahead for their children.

What the HSE has to say

The HSE said in a statement:

St Catherine’s Association is a voluntary organisation and a separate legal entity from the HSE. The HSE funds St Catherine’s Association to provide health related services to its clients.The HSE engage with St Catherine’s Association in relation to their financial and governance issues on a regular basis. Senior HSE management met with St. Catherine’s Association, Thursday, 10th July 2014 and further engagement is planned.The HSE’s priority is to protect the disability services that the children attending St Catherine’s Association receive and to support their families.

Read: ‘Left high and dry’: TDs call for Deaf advocacy service to be re-opened>

Read: Inspections on children’s disability services finds majority provide good quality care>

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