Donegal parents of children with Down syndrome have been left confused and angry as criteria for the new Summer Provision education programme excludes some pupils from receiving support.
For the first time, this year’s alternative ‘July provision’ programme will include children with Down Syndrome.
However, it emerged this week that children with Down Syndrome at post-primary level are not eligible.
Gina Grant of Down Syndrome Donegal says the decision amounts to discrimination.
“I’m at a loss to know why the Minister had excluded those in post-primary school. There is no explanation at this point. There is a level of discrimination, where the department is saying those with Down Syndrome need the support but you are not getting it,” Ms Grant told Donegal Daily.
Two weeks ago, families celebrated the confirmation from Education Minister Joe McHugh that the provision programme would be extended to support children with Down syndrome for the first time since the scheme was established in 2005.
However, there was shock when it later emerged that only primary school children with the condition were included.
“Initially, we were all over the moon, we were told children with Down syndrome were included. This week parents are angry and hurt after such a long fight, they had finally accepted it and our children were given value, where we deserved and needed support based on their education profile, now there are exclusions and criteria put on the children, regardless of diagnosis,” Ms Grant said.
“Parents are angry, they are emailing Joe McHugh and they want to be heard.”
The anger is shared among families of children with special needs who are eligible, Ms Grant said.
Another issue surrounds children with Down syndrome as they leave pre-school. If a child with Down syndrome is leaving preschool to go on to a specialised school they are entitled to summer education support, however, if a child with Down syndrome is moving on to a mainstream school they are not.
The Donegal Down Syndrome Association is now pulling together funds to offer supports for the children that the government are “leaving out”.
“We cannot have it that our members are not getting the support that they deserve,” Ms Grant said.
“It’s proven that children with Down syndrome regress over the long summer.
“Children are going back in September and they are literally playing catch up until Halloween on what they had forgotten, or what they never had in the first place. By that time they are catching up for the rest of the year.”
As Down Syndrome Ireland calls for a review and amendment of the Summer Provision programme proposals, Ms Grant said families are looking for answers.
She said: “We want the Minister to give clarity on why he has done this – if there is a justifiable reason – we want him to explain why he signed off on this. We want to know why all our members are not being treated equally in this system and why our charity has to pick up where the state is failing them.”
“In the meantime if anyone is out there, whether they have Down syndrome or not, and want help or advice on summer provision, we can support them if they contact Donegal Down Syndrome.”