Inclusion Ireland AGM and Conference, Tullamore

by Suzanne McHugh, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary Services /Muiríosa Foundation

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11–12 April 2008
This year’s Inclusion Ireland AGM was opened with a welcoming address by Cllr Eamon Dooley, Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council. Following Cllr Dooley, Finula Garrahy, Chairperson of Inclusion Ireland, framed her opening address around the question posed as the theme of the conference: ‘Is it getting better for people with an intellectual disability?’ Ms Garrahy reviewed progress, or its lack, in terms of legislative and service developments within the preceding year.

The Disability Act, she argued, has not been well received by Inclusion Ireland—the principal reason for dissatisfaction being that it allows for assessments of need without equal consideration being given to the provision of appropriate professionally recommended intervention services. Services provided to children in the 6-18 age range and to adults are being significantly impacted by the demands of the legislation, despite promises to the contrary. These are sentiments that have been echoed on the ground by different professionals and certainly among the membership of the Psychological Society of Ireland. In addition, it seems that the process unfortunately de-emphasises assessment as process in favour of assessment as product.

Currently tension is being experienced between trying to operate services adhering to codes of professional ethics and good practice, and the assessment guidelines, as they are currently set out. An example of this dilemma is shown in the national best-practice guidelines for informing families of their child’s disability, rather than a one-off event. Preparation, planning, team work, close communication between staff members and liaison between agencies/service providers is essential to successful implementation of best practice.
When a report is produced by a professional for the purposes of an assessment of need, it is not to be given by the professional to anyone, including the child’s parents, before it has been given to the assessment officer. In the past professionals would have used these reports to quickly access or apply for other services such as educational placements or domiciliary care allowance.

On a more positive note, however, the best-practice guidelines—the result of a partnership project between the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies and the Health Services National Partnership Forum (HSNPF)—are an example of how things are getting better. The fundamental goals of these guidelines are to ensure improved outcomes for families being told of their child’s disability through the implementation
of best practice and to provide improved support, guidance, education and training for professionals in the important and sensitive task of delivering this news. A video presentation on the guidelines was well received at the conference, and there were clearly resonances between the stories of those who participated in the initial project and those families in attendance at the conference.

An issue that is clearly high among parents’ priorities is finding a way to deal with the long waiting times for speech therapy. Indeed, inadequate provision of speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and psychology continues to be of concern to parents, particularly in the context of the September 2007 embargo on staff recruitment.

With particular regard to services for adults, Finula Garraghy said that Inclusion Ireland welcomed the progress that has been made in reducing the number of people with an intellectual disability resident in psychiatric hospitals.

Questions that touched on issues across the lifespan were addressed to a panel of politicians on Friday night. The questions ranged across such topics as legal consent and capacity; respite care; employment opportunities; transport, and carer’s allowance. There was a similar breadth of topics on the programme for Saturday with presentations with regard to children and adults, national and international practice, and individual to systemic concerns.

As this was my first time to attend an Inclusion Ireland conference I was struck by the established networks that exist among parents, professionals, advocates and people with an might be able to listen and to help to progress the aims of Inclusion Ireland.