“Heartbreak” as intellectually disabled adults denied day service slotsMike Finnerty 06 Sep 2023
The new school year is usually a mixed bag of emotions for parents, and for the parents of children who attended St. Michael’s school in Baldoyle, the new school term is fraught with emotion.
In late August, parents of those who attended the school protested outside Leinster House, after they were unable to secure day placements for their intellectually challenged adult children.
Ali Field, whose son James was diagnosed with autism in 2017, organised the protest and said that the situation was “heartbreaking”.
Field said that last October, parents of 13 children applied to St Michael’s House for adult day services, following on from their enrolment with St Michael’s school.
Field said that parents were never given any indication that there were no places available for the 2023/24 academic year, and were never advised to go to other providers.
“The day before they were due to finish school they received letters saying they had no places, and the scramble began,” she said.
The letter informed families that their family member had not had their referral accepted owing to a combination of staff shortages, a lack of suitable facilities and a “significant” existing waiting list for adult services.
In the letter, St. Michael’s House CEO Liz Reynolds said: ” I know that you may have a long association with St. Michael’s House through your child’s school and we regret St. Michael’s House cannot continue to provide services to your family member.”
She added that the HSE are working to source alternative services and will be in touch with families.
Christopher Hamilton told Northside People “our beautiful daughter Laura turned 18 at the end of April and left St. Michael’s SNS Baldoyle at the end of June.”
“The day before the students finished school, we received the attached letter, along with two of Laura’s classmates and the students in SMH Raheny – we now call this letter the “reject letter”.
“Having had an assessment last November it was recommended we stay with St Michael’s going forward to Adult Services.”
The “reject letter” was put up on Twitter and was brought to the attention of Alison Field and Labour TD Aodhán O’Ríordáin.
Hamilton said that as a result of Ó Ríordáin seeing the letter, the TD linked the parents in with contacts at Leinster House, and a meeting was set up between the parents and Minister Anne Rabbitte.
“A further meeting followed in which representatives from the HSE and local TDs attended where we all had a say and discussed how we could move forward in this desperate situation we are all in.”
“We have been dealing with HSE Day Opportunities team who are working to try and make right this awful situation.
“We all feel completely let down by St Michael’s House as it seems they were aware they would not be able to take our children into Adult Services a long time ago.”
“How can they treat vulnerable children in this way? Our daughter is non-verbal as are some of the other students, so we are her voice and want to do the best we can for all concerned,” Hamilton said.
Discussing the meeting, Field said “we were told other providers would be called for places and by September everyone would have placements.”
“The day before our protest, some parents got phone calls saying they had placements, but in buildings that have to be done up in order to facilitate the day services.”
Field noted that the timing was “strange,” claiming there was nothing communicated in writing, a vague timeframe being established, (“after Christmas” was the time given) and there were no provisions given for public transport.
“They were even asked could one of them take two buses on public transport alone, and it’s worth nothing that one of these people has limited speech.”
Anne Rabbitte, who serves as Minister of State for Disability, showed “great empathy” for the affected parents according to Field, but suspects that the issue is too vast for one Minister to handle.
“From speaking to her (Rabbitte), I get the impression she’s very knowledgeable and passionate about this issue, but there is also the feeling that this issue is beyond her control and is more of an issue for HSE.”
Rabbitte tweeted on the day of the protest that she was only made aware of the lack of placements three days prior by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the HSE.
Rabbitte said that she will let the parents know about the outcome of the meeting and will look to solve the issue to the best of her ability.
While Field said that she appreciated Rabbitte taking the meeting with the parents and her dedication to the issue, she said “it feels like this is more of an issue with the HSE than a governmental one, and not something that can be solved by one Minister alone.”
The protest outside Leinster House was held the day of the Leaving Certificate results were released, and “went well” according to Field, with Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan, Labour TDs Ivana Bacik and Duncan Smith showing support to the protesters on the day.
O’Callaghan told The Journal that the issue was “an appalling way to treat people,” saying “the Government promised that places would be in place for each person this September and have let them down very badly.”
Field, who serves as a local area representative for Labour in Dublin Bay North, is not giving up the fight, and said that St Michael’s House Ballymun “are at fault” for the issue.
“All they had to do is discuss this problem with the parents last October, instead of sending a last-minute letter.”
“These kids have non-curable disabilities, the state has known this since birth, but no proper plan is put in place.”
Field said that at the protest outside Leinster House, she was told that the issue was not just limited to Dublin, being informed by a parent that there are eight children from Goatstown who were in a similar situation.
“That’s just over 20 kids going through the same situation in Dublin alone, god knows what the situation is like nationwide,” she said.
“On a week that kids get college places, new uniforms for starting school and all that goes with it, we are once again left with no joy just fighting and battling through life.”