AVERIL CONTRIBUTION TO THE SEANAD ON BEECHPARK SERVICES

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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I tabled this debate to highlight the impact that the underfunding of Beechpark Services and child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, is having on children in the north Dublin area. It makes it impossible for children with autism and other special needs to get a proper education and puts their welfare and that of their fellow pupils at risk.

As the Minister of State is aware, Beechpark is a regional, community-based HSE service that provides specialised clinical supports for children with autism who attend designated special schools, outreach preschools and outreach classes in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. The speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychological services that Beechpark provides are essential to the personal development and education of children with autism. Without these therapeutic services, children with special needs cannot get a proper education. It is distressing for the children and their parents and teachers to be deprived of this essential service.

Schools that have opened special autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units want to be able to provide the education that the children in their care need and deserve, but they are being frustrated in their efforts by the lack of therapeutic and psychological supports. One school has advised me that the underfunding of Beechpark Services and the CAMHS has created a serious risk to the welfare and safety of its pupils as a whole. The school has asked me not to identify it on the record, but I have sent details of its name and specific incidents to the Ministers and Minister of State, Deputies Reilly, Quinn and Kathleen Lynch, via private correspondence.

The school was traditionally served by Beechpark Services. Eight of its existing 24 pupils in ASD classes are getting services from Beechpark, but the others are not because Beechpark is not in a position to take on new enrolments. Children who need therapeutic interventions like occupational therapy and speech and language therapy are not getting them. As a result, some of those students have become impossible to manage and are presenting a danger to themselves and others. The primary school in question has had to expel a child this year due to a serious assault. One of the students about whom the principal is concerned is an eight year old boy who has self-harmed. Another has assaulted the principal and other staff a number of times. There was a further serious incident yesterday. The principal rang me extremely upset after a student ransacked a classroom and created a dangerous situation for the student in question, the teacher and the other children who were present. The principal is concerned that a pupil or teacher will be seriously hurt if these children do not get the help they need as soon as possible.

In addition to needing occupational therapy and speech and language services from Beechpark, some children also need mental health interventions. Indeed, some pupils were previously being served by the CAMHS, but it was withdrawn and they were referred to Beechpark. Since Beechpark cannot take them, they have been left with no services. The principal has also told me of instances of children who, having received a mental health service from the CAMHS at preschool age, saw it withdrawn as soon as they were enrolled in a special ASD unit in the school, presumably on the assumption that they would receive the service there. However, there is no one at the school to provide it. Yesterday, the principal was determined to stress to me that an ASD class in a mainstream school was not a medical intervention and that it was inappropriate for children to have medical interventions withdrawn simply because they had been enrolled in an educational service.

I am sure the Minister of State will appreciate the seriousness of this issue. I have called for this debate to bring the matter to his attention. I appreciate that he is representing the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and I hope he will raise it with the Minister. I hope the reply he has been given by the Department on the Minister’s behalf will outline when funding will be provided to ensure that Beechpark and CAMHS can serve all of the children who have been assessed as needing their services. When will early intervention teams be in place in Dublin North so that children with special needs can get the assistance they deserve?

 

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