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Children with disabilities need more educational support, not mockery

Children with disabilities need more educational support, not mockery

Lola Okolosie

Lola Okolosie

Apparently progressive legislation is being undercut by slashed budgets, pitting councils against parents – and opening up a market for opportunistic lawyers

“Crikey, had a great ‘win’ last week which sent some parents into a storm! It is always a great win when the other side thinks they won!” So went a tweet from the law firm Baker Small that would cause enough anger and consternation to make this most flippant of messages national news.

The “losers” being ridiculed here were the parents of children with disabilities trying to secure adequate support for their child’s education. Baker Small specialises in contesting these cases. The existing narrative around state help being a luxury only the lazy believe they should have access to has, we know, become embedded. So much so that the likes of Baker Small can now publicly mock parents looking to help their vulnerable children.

No one likes a gloater, least of all one who seems happy to bask in other’s misery, so to be clear, Baker Small’s tweets were reprehensible and the firm deserves all the opprobrium that comes its way. Yet such disgraceful behaviour is only permissible within the context of slashed council funds and stretched budgets. The disability charity Scope reports that in a survey of 1,500 parents, 69% had problems accessing local services for their child.

Often when words like “services” and “support” are used in this context, they serve only to make more opaque what we are actually talking about. Councils may “support” a family by funding an after-school club once a week or six days across the summer holidays. This level of provision is supposed to be enough for parents with children considered to have severe disabilities.

Again we have opacity here. “Severe” can mean an incontinent 14-year-old who is unable to dress themselves or indeed complete the most basic of tasks without a parent’s assistance. Their severe learning disability may mean that they are non-verbal and that communication, even for parents who have devised ways to decipher their child’s utterances, is difficult. Frustration might lead the teenager to lash out: hitting or biting parents or siblings, harming themselves by banging their heads repeatedly against a wall. For some families the above might be a feature of daily life – one they must get through on a few hours’ sleep because their 14-year-old has retained the sleeping habits of a newborn.

We must not forget that these are children whose parents no doubt love them unconditionally but have been pushed to breaking point. While a child’s disability is not what defines them, society makes it so by failing to provide them and their families with essential services that will enable them to live their lives more independently.

It is staggering that we should treat such children and their families with this level of disdain. That many soldier on in silence isn’t a sign that there isn’t a problem but rather the reverse. Of the 47% of parents who had been to see their GP in Scope’s research, 57% were prescribed antidepressants. Our society continues to make disability a burden, a source of guilt and personal shame.

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