In the wake of the confirmation by the HSE of the closure of the pre-schools service in Donegal Town, distraught mothers of some of the children have called on the Government to reverse the decision.
They said the children involved cannot speak for themselves and the parents have to speak out for them.
Three of the mothers met up with the Donegal Democrat to express both their shock and despair at the decision which they feel was poorly communicated and taken without any consultation with the parents.
The pre-school will close in September 2014 but will not be taking any new enrolments this year.
Ger Feehily’s daughter Ava from Donegal Town is presently attending the school and is making excellent progress, something that Ger feels could not have happened without the dedicated services provided by St. Agnes.
She said, “I think a number of issues have been clouded and we would like to clear this up through the Donegal Democrat.
“We agree with mainstream education provided that all the facilities are in place including SNA’s, resource teachers but this is at normal school-going age.
“This is something that we would also like written in stone - we do not want any hollow promises.
“This issue is about a pre-school service which prepares children with special needs to enter the mainstream and we cannot see this being provided in the present educational system nor can we see how it could be cost effective.
“Ava has been in St. Agnes for just a few months and has improved just so much.
“She was extremely shy, sat in the corner with her head down and talking very little. In these short few months she has become much more outgoing, her communication skills have improved beyond comprehension and her confidence level has improved to such an extent that she is now quite happy to toddle out the door in the morning to the school bus.
“Ava even had difficulty feeding, but now these skills have been acquired and she is well able to feed herself.
“She is just like any other little girl now and this could not have happened without the help of St. Agnes. The staff there have years of experience between them, but more importantly they have a love for the children and a passion to help them achieve life’s goals.
“I know of children whose parents were told that they might never walk - they are walking today. It has opened doors for many children from throughout the south west providing them with an opportunity to lead a perfectly happy life.”
Kate Meehan, also from Donegal Town, was highly emotional and upset when talking to the Democrat.
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Holding back the tears she said, “Ronan my son is just two years of age and was due to go to the pre-school next year.
“I heard about the proposed closure on local radio and I was just devastated. I spent the day crying, I just couldn’t motivate myself to do anything.
“I am just a mother - I am not trained in special needs and I just feel helpless. Every mother wants the very best for their children.
“I have four other children and sometimes I feel riddled with guilt that I cannot spend more time with him but I have to look after the rest as well - its an awful situation to be in to have to chose one over the other.
“I may be a young enough woman but I have to admit that the thought has often occurred to me “What would Ronan do if something happened or if I wasn’t here?”
“I have to ask a straight question - What is going to be available for Ronan between now and his entry into mainstream education ? “He is two years old but has the mental age of a baby - he cannot walk, he can’t even stand and he cannot really talk, he just babbles.
“Will a facility the same as St. Agnes be available to Ronan or will he just be neatly tucked away in the corner. I need to know this and demand the answers.”
Ballyshannon woman Mary Gallagher has a daughter of two and a half years and intended sending her to St. Agnes this year but now her hopes have been dashed.
“Dearbhla has just started walking and I was hoping that she could attend the pre - school from August onwards. The only option open to me as things stand to send her to the local playschool in Ballyshannon.
“Don’t get me wrong the school in Ballyshannon is a superb school but they simply do not have the same wealth of experience that St. Agnes has built up over the years.
“At present St. Agnes pre - school is teaching our children how to eat, feeding them, training them who to walk, talk, communicate and building their confidence to name but a few of their roles - I cannot honestly expect any mainstream pre-school to provide this service.
Mary said that there are people reading this who are not affected by the problem and may not fully understand the problems with children special needs.
“Nobody out there knows what lies ahead of them - this is a problem that can hit any family at any given time - you just never know.
“We are demanding a reversal of this cruel decision - it doesn’t even make sound financial sense but most importantly it is depriving many children of reaching their full potential and the opportunity of making a full contribution to society.
“Once again I stress this is not about mainstream education or about segregation - it is all about a facility that prepares our children to enter school fully prepared and with confidence so that the do not just become the forgotten children of yet another generation.”