Inclusion Ireland recently published a working paper: ‘The Case of Speech and Language Therapy’ authored by Pauline Conroy. The key findings of this report were that there is not a functioning, public speech and language therapy service in Ireland and that access to a service can depend on where you live.
Another of the key findings, which should come as no surprise, was the resilience, hard work and creativity of families and support groups. While acknowledging that the Health Service Executive (HSE) should be funding these services, many parents have taken their own action to ensure their child has a service.
Official statistics noted that almost 3000 children were waiting more than 12 months for speech and language therapy treatment. Conroy’s report contained the stories of children who had been waiting years for this vital therapy. In the report, Maria explained how her daughter, ‘a child of austerity’, had only accessed a handful of speech therapy sessions over a seven-year period.
In many areas of the country parents are coming together to provide what Conroy terms ‘associative parent provision’. Through family contributions and fundraising, children are able to access an appropriate speech and language therapy service at an affordable price. While fundraising to provide services is not desirable, the determination of families to provide a service in a vacuum created by the HSE is admirable.
In 2007, thanks to the hard work and dedication of a small group of parents, Clare Crusaders established a clinic to provide therapy services to children with a disability. Clare Crusaders is a community response to the lack of publicly available services. At present, this family-led charity provides occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy to 350 children with a disability for free. The cost of €250,000 per annum to run the service is met through community fundraising.
The effectiveness of early intervention is not lost on the families associated with the Kildare Down Syndrome branch. Conroy notes that through a combination of family contributions and fundraising, children can access a small, weekly playgroup. Children learn many of the skills required for preschool through play. The children are brought out from the group for individual sessions of speech therapy. While this is happening, parent can meet together over coffee, and there are also regular lectures and talks.
Many local family support groups such as Laois Offaly Families for Autism assist their family members to access speech therapy privately via a subsidy. In a recent survey, 25% of children in Laois and Offaly had not seen a speech and language therapist for more than one year. Again, a family-led response is making speech therapy available to children.
Recent media reports on the lack of an effective speech therapy service have inspired one County Louth man to establish a local service. The aim is to provide an affordable speech therapy service for young people with autism that will make a difference in their lives. The founder is a father of two boys with autism.
It is shameful that families and support groups have to raise funds to access a speech and language therapy service for their children. These are basic services that should be publicly available. However, families in many parts of Ireland have shown their determination and creativity by establishing their own cost-effective services. Families realise the importance of early intervention, especially in speech therapy, and many of them are bridging the gaps in HSE services to give their child a better chance.