Posted May 17th, 2013
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has today (Friday) said it is essential that parents and teachers play a central role in the working group set to be established to consider the report from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), which has been published by the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn TD.
“The report published today by the NCSE contains many positive and important recommendations, which will now be considered by a new working group. It is absolutely essential that the working group includes parents and teachers who know and understand the needs of children and pupils better than anyone else. This is a subject which I have felt passionately about since before my involvement in politics. A number of years ago I set up an autism support and lobby group, and I have closely involved in the issue ever since.
“This report is the most comprehensive review of educational provision for children with special needs in 20 years. The last time special education was reviewed was in 1993. During the boom, despite all of the additional resources at its disposal, the previous Fianna Fáil government did not see fit to look at how we provide special education, and consider what can be done to improve the system. In my view, this shows the low priority the previous government gave to catering for children with special education needs.
“The NCSE engaged in a wide consultation process while compiling this review; speaking to children, parents, teachers, voluntary bodies and advocacy groups. This inclusive ethos must not fall by the wayside now; if we want to get changes to the system right, parents and teachers must be part of the working group set up by the NCSE to examine the report’s contents.
“I particularly welcome the fact that the report recommends the full implementation of the EPSEN Act and that it supports a standardisation in the skills and training required for those working with children with special education needs. The report makes a number of other recommendations that clearly require closer examination; such as the need for a national system of assessment and how this might work. We cannot forget that this is an extremely sensitive topic, and one that, for parents, can be fraught with stress and concern.
“This report has the potential to make a very positive contribution to the way we provide special education in this country. It is essential that the working group now puts an implementation plan in place, with a realistic timeframe. The report presents a number of very important questions on how we should deliver these special education resources; if we want to get the answers right, parents must be represented on the working group.”
New inspections and standards for residential services for people with disabilities now in place – Harris
Posted May 15th, 2013
Wicklow Fine Gael TD and long-time disability rights activist, Simon Harris, has today welcomed the announcement of new standards for residential services for children and adults with disabilities. The new standards have been approved by HIQA and will ensure quality care for people with disabilities. They were a key commitment in the Programme for Government.
Speaking about this announcement, Deputy Harris said, “I am delighted that progress has been made on this issue and the first ever national standards for residential services for people with disabilities have been launched and can be enforced by HIQA. 10,000 people with disabilities live in about 1,200 residential centres throughout the country and these standards will provide them with protection and assurance that their care will be of a high quality.”
“The provision of these standards is a vital step in the right direction for the users of residential services. The standards will provide clear guidance on what the required standard of care is. This is a concrete step in the right direction and one which will ensure a universal standard for the provision of services,” continued Deputy Harris
“In my experience, the quality of residential care is generally very high, particularly what I have seen in County Wicklow. However, it is only right that such standards are put in place. Registration of residential care centres will commence in September and inspections will commence this year,” concluded Deputy Harris.
Posted March 7th, 2013
I have been a long-time admirer and supporter of the work of St. Catherine’s in Wicklow. It has provided a life line to so many families with children with special needs. I have visited the services on a number of occasions over the last few years and have seen first hand the brilliant work being done.
In the last few weeks, issues have come to the fore regarding serious problems with both corporate governance and financial management within the organisation. It is important to stress that everything by the organisation was done in the interests of children. However, lack of adequate governance structures and financial controls have now resulted in a very serious situation arising which was threatening the very continuance of St. Catherine’s.
I am aware that a new Board of Directors has been working day and night to try and rectify these problems and to put the organisation on a stable financial footing. I want to commend all those involved in that work.
The HSE are currently working with this new Board of Directors to put in place an effective “rescue plan” for the services.
Today, Department of Education officials will meet with management of St. Catherine’s and I think this is a very important step.
On Monday evening, a meeting will be held for parents of children in St. Catherine’s to meet with the Board and to receive an update on the situation.
I want to assure the people of Wicklow and most particularly parents of children in St. Catherine’s that I will be working tirelessly on this issue alongside the other 4 Wicklow TDs and all stakeholders to protect the services – residential, respite and educational.
Yesterday in the Dáil, I along with colleagues raised the importance of St. Catherine’s and the 5 Wicklow TDs also plan to meet with the Minister for Disability Services next week.
This is not about a “government cut” or the HSE trying to shut services. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. It has been repeatedly stated by Government and by the HSE that services must and will continue and that is the absolute priority of all those involved in working on this issue.
To the 58 people who lost their jobs, no words of mine will in any way numb that pain. All I will say is that I am so sorry that this has happened and that I have heard countless accounts of your commitment, superb work and dedication.
There are many outstanding questions for which there are as yet no definitive answers. The message I want parents to have though is that if we all work together on this we can, in the first instance, stabilise the organisation and ensure the secure retention of all St. Catherine’s service and then look at rebuilding where necessary important supports that are needed for these children.
The care and education provided by St. Catherine’s is something that is treasured by families in Wicklow and beyond and I will work to secure these provisions.
Posted December 6th, 2012
TD says people with disabilities ‘not charity cases’
People with disabilities should not be regarded as charity cases, the Dáil was told during a debate on disability funding and services.
Simon Harris (FG, Wicklow) said it drove “people with disabilities crazy when the debate is reduced to one about social welfare cheques”.
Such payments were vital to many people, but “we must stop talking about people with disabilities as charity cases”.
“All too often the culture and viewpoint in this House and often in broader society is that the State writes the cheque, hands it to the person with a disability and it is a case of job done, social conscience eased; we have done our bit.”
It was “a rights agenda and a programme of reform we must focus on”, he said during the debate on a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ Motion.
Special education needs
Mr Harris said he had a relative with special education needs who was born and grew up during the boom. “When Fianna Fáil was in government disability services were well funded,” he added. “We also have that aim. However, my relative could not access many of the services he needed.
“People with disabilities will explain that even when the country was flush with money, when it was thrown around like confetti, there was still an issue with disability services.”
They “want us to listen and to pursue and progress a rights-based agenda that recognises that the needs of people with disabilities go above and beyond a weekly or monthly social welfare payment”.
Mr Harris also said the State “must plan better for school-leavers with intellectual disabilities”. The big rush every summer to find places was unacceptable.
“We must move to a system of personalised budgets and examine the type of place a person wants” and give them the dignity to choose the place “rather than assigning the money to a service provider”.
Minister of State for Health Alex White said funding provided to programmes, in addition to the annual €1.4 billion investment by the HSE, “enables people with disabilities to avail of an extensive range of financial supports and services”. The challenge was to ensure the funding was used effectively and “directed to the needs of the individual in the first instance”.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher, who introduced the motion which called on the Government not to impose arbitrary cuts in funding to service providers, said he did not expect extra funding.
“In the name of God,” Mr Kelleher said, “will the Government do something about removing the arbitrary assessment and examine the individual organisations doing a wonderful job, day in, day out, throughout the country?”
If an organisation was inefficient “then deal with it, but do not make everybody pay”.
Posted November 16th, 2012
Wicklow Fine Gael TD and disability advocate, Simon Harris has spoken at the launch of a new Autism support group in Greystones, called “GRASP”. Deputy Harris is a long-standing advocate for families living with Autism and has been involved with Autism support groups since 2002.
Speaking about the establishment of this new Autism support group in Wicklow, Deputy Harris said, “I was delighted to speak at the first meeting of GRASP this week in the Resource Centre in Kenmare Heights in Greystones. It was great to see families living with Autism coming together and sharing their experiences, offering each other advice and providing support for families with children on the Autistic Spectrum.”
“I have offered to work with this group and indeed all disability groups in Wicklow in terms of advocating for their needs, particularly in areas where policy needs to be changed. Since my election to the Dail, I have sought a number of changes to special education needs policy and I am pleased that finally there is a review being carried out of how special needs education works in this country. This is the first time disability education policy has been reviewed in this country since 1993. This review is due to conclude next year and I will be progressing this at the Oireachtas Education Committee and in the Dail,” stated Deputy Harris.
“Additionally, I have been pushing for changes to how the Domiciliary Care Allowance scheme is operated as, in my view, the DCA scheme is currently failing many families of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Myself and others with an interest in this area managed to achieve a policy review of DCA which involves parents groups and disability groups. This review is due to report to the Minister for Social Protection shortly,” continued Deputy Harris.
“I want to assure people with disabilities and families living with Autism in Wicklow that I will continue to work on these important policy issues. These issues are not simply about funding or resources but rather about a cultural and common-sense shift by the State in terms of how it views people with Autism,” concluded Deputy Harris.
Posted October 25th, 2012
Wicklow Fine Gael TD, Simon Harris, yesterday called for greater respect and dignity for those with disabilities who are participating or seeking to participate in the workforce.
Addressing the Dail yesterday, Deputy Harris stated that ‘Last year in the budget we tried to put the cart before the horse; we tried to cut to spur people to work, many of whom can’t. People with disabilities want to work and should be better supported in an effort to do this.
‘I very much welcome this announcement of €7 million in funding under DACT. This announcement is an important move towards further equipping people with disabilities in this State with supports, to enable them to avail of employment opportunities, including the Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Workplace Adaptation Grant Scheme. We need to move away from the Bertie economy of rolling out money rather than dealing with dignity, these resources will assist disabled people in participating in the workforce and allow them to have the same self respect as every other Irish taxpayer.
‘We need to move away from the failures to use public funding in an effective, efficient and dignified manner and towards a model that provides the most with the least.
‘I have met with the Irish Association of Supported Employment and addressed the ten points around supported work scheme in Dail Eireann.
‘I have worked on disabilities rights and with people with disabilities for 10 years and there is a need now as there was then to have greater dignity and respect for people with disabilities accessing the workforce.’
Funds to help people with disabilities access workforce must be monitored to ensure they achieve their purpose – Harris
Posted October 4th, 2012
Wicklow TD tells Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection that there needs to be greater oversight and monitoring of funds spent on helping people with disabilities access the workforce & more consultation with those the funding schemes are meant to assist
Wicklow Fine Gael TD, Simon Harris has told the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection that safeguards need to be enhanced to ensure that funding spent on schemes to assist people with disabilities in accessing work achieves what it set out to do.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Committee Meeting, Deputy Harris said, “In difficult economic times, it is absolutely essential that every cent spent on disability services is benefitting people with disabilities. There are a number of good schemes and initiatives in place in the Department of Social Protection but two things must happen to ensure these schemes reach their maximum potential.”
“Firstly, the State needs to hear the voices of people with disabilities. There needs to be ongoing consultation and feedback sought by the Department of Social Protection from people with disabilities availing of such employment support schemes. Secondly, there must be a cross-departmental approach to these schemes. There is little point, the Department putting in place a scheme to financially assist someone with a disability access a job, if the HSE does not then provide the necessary personal assistant hours or home help hours needed to facilitate the person in taking up this job,” continued Deputy Harris.
“I am pleased to have had an opportunity to highlight these issues in the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection this week and this is an area I intend to continue to work on. We need to reform disability services and this is one aspect of that which needs attention,” concluded Deputy Harris.
Posted May 11th, 2012
The ‘myth’ everything is alright with the system has been dispelled, says Wicklow TD
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has welcomed the Government’s commitment to holding an urgent review of Domiciliary Care Allowance, a payment made in respect of children with special needs.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Harris said, “There is no doubt in my mind we need an urgent review of the domiciliary care scheme and how it operates. The delays are unacceptable, the inconsistencies in decisions are unfair and the system of reviewing cases can, at times, be cold, illogical and ill-timed.”
“I welcome the fact the Government has now undertaken to carry out this urgent review. This in itself has moved the matter on because it dispelled the myth that everything is alright with the scheme, and shifted the debate in a very positive direction.”
“It is vital that any such review has a way for parents and carers to input their experiences, because so much of what goes on in the life of a child with special needs happens behind closed doors. Parents are the experts, and it is vital that their voices, and through them, the voices of their children, are heard during this review.”
Posted May 10th, 2012
Speech on Domiciliary Care Allowance – 9 May 2012
I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy and Members of the Technical Group for tabling the motion and affording us the opportunity to debate the issue of the domiciliary care allowance in the House. More important, it provides parents with an opportunity to tell their stories in the AV room of Leinster House and through the media. Some of them are in the Visitors’ Gallery.
I particularly want to acknowledge the parents who are here tonight from all around the country. No parent of a child with special needs is a natural protester; they simply do not have the time to be a protester and raising a child with special needs does not lend itself to finding that time. Therefore the fact that they are here in the Visitors’ Gallery tonight says more than any of us ever can about how much this issue means to them and how determined they are that their voices are heard but more important, perhaps, the voices of their children. I thank those parents in the Visitors’ Gallery and I acknowledge that although they are here in large numbers, it is probably a small representation of the concerns of many families throughout the country.
Collectively, parents of children with special needs are owed an apology by this institution, by my party, by other parties, by people of no party, because even in the years of plenty, even in the years when the Celtic tiger roared, many of the issues and the challenges that families of children with special needs are facing now, they were facing then. Admittedly, while the recession has posed additional challenges, this idea that everything was rosy in the years of economic well-being, is a myth and this says much about how this institution, these Houses of Parliament, treated people and children with disabilities and their families. As a Member of this institution, I want to record my regret and my apology that this has happened.
There is no doubt in my mind that we need an urgent review of the domiciliary care allowance scheme and how it operates. The delays are unacceptable, the inconsistencies in decisions are unfair and the system of reviewing cases can, at times, be cold, illogical and ill-timed. I welcome the fact that the Government has now undertaken to carry out this urgent review. This in itself has moved the matter on because it has dispelled the myth that everything is all right with the scheme and that has been the response we have been getting from this Government and from previous Governments in response to parliamentary questions and Topical Issue matters in this House that everything is fine with the system. Last night, the Minister shifted that position in a very welcome direction by conceding that all is not well and that there is a need for an urgent review and this is to be welcomed. As my colleague, Deputy Regina Doherty said, it is vital that any such review has a way for parents and carers to input into that review. It cannot simply be some form of technocratic, bureaucratic, Civil Service review, with all due respect to all of those individuals under those terms. It has to involve parents because so much of what goes on in the life of a child with special needs happens behind closed doors. Parents are the experts.
I wish to address an issue with which I am very familiar and with which I have worked closely with others, the issue of autism. The current system is not addressing the needs of children on the autistic spectrum in an adequate manner. It is almost impossible for parents to explain to the Department the needs of their child. It is almost impossible for parents to be able to put across the needs of their child in the current application system. This needs to be addressed. In addition, autism does not go away; there is no cure. Parents, teachers and families can work with children with autism. Progress can be made, coping skills can be developed. I have seen it in my own relatives. However, the autism is still there, it does not go away. If one goes into the home of any child with autism, in addition to the many gifts that child has and the joy and the love he or she brings to the family, the challenges remain. The pressures on families remain and all too often, the support systems are not there. We need people in the Department, regardless of political affiliations, to understand this.
While I appreciate that cases need to be reviewed – as do many parents – this needs to be done in a much more structured manner. Parents need to be given ample time and I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Murphy’s motion in this regard. The reviews need to take place at a sensible time in the child’s life. It is not right to put the family through the stress of a review at a pivotal moment in that child’s life, for example, at the transition from one school to another. There need to be compassion and common sense needs to be evident throughout the Department.
I received an e-mail from a constituent family today who told me they were informed in November 2010 that an oral hearing would take place at a date yet undecided. In summer 2011, they were given the date for that oral hearing. They went to the oral hearing not knowing what to expect.
This review cannot be open-ended, it has to be meaningful and it has to involve parents and there has to be an implementation. On a final point, it is totally unacceptable that any Department sends out a letter with the anonymous signature, “DCA Section”. The very least families of children with disabilities deserve is that if a civil servant sends out a letter on behalf of a Department, that letter is signed by a named person and that somebody is accountable for that file. There are people behind these decisions and we need to know them.
I welcome the review but we must deliver on it and I thank Deputy Murphy for the opportunity.
Posted May 3rd, 2012
Bray Lakers should be seen as a model for development of sports and social clubs for people with intellectual disabilities.
Wicklow Fine Gael TD, Simon Harris, welcomed volunteers from Bray Lakers to the Dáil to brief Oireachtas members on the services they provide for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Deputy Harris said, “Many of us based in Wicklow are already familiar with the excellent work being done every day by Bray Lakers and the impact this has on the lives of its 400 members and its families. I was delighted to host Bray Lakers in the Dáil to share their experiences as a centre of excellence, in hopes this model can be rolled out across the country.”
“While their current facilities are far from adequate, Bray Laker’s achievements since their establishment in 1989 are exemplary. One day I hope to see facilities based on this model available to all people with intellectual disabilities, wherever they live. Sadly, this is not the case at present.”
“In the meantime, I will be working with Bray Lakers to support their ambitious fundraising campaign for a new home, which will see them based in a purpose-built centre for the first time.”
“To support Bray Lakers and the important work they can contact Ann King on 01 202 2694 or log onto their website, www.braylakers.ie where you can ‘Buy-a-Brick’ for just €5.”