Prof. Siobhán O'Neill brands any failure to support children with special educational needs a ‘disgrace’

Professor Siobhán O'Neill has branded any failure to support children with special educational needs (SEN) a ‘disgrace’.
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“I cannot find words powerful enough to communicate it. It is a disgrace. It is appalling. It is shameful. It needs to be addressed.

“We talk about the impact on those young people and on every aspect of their life, including their mental health, their education, their carers and their families.

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"It is an absolute priority. When you think of priorities, that has to be near the top — it really does. It is fundamental,” the Derry-based mental health champion for the North said at a recent briefing of the Stormont Education Committee.

Professor Siobhán O'NeillProfessor Siobhán O'Neill
Professor Siobhán O'Neill

Prof. O’Neill was responding to concerns raised by Sinn Féin MLA Danny Baker, who told the committee that a lack of support for families seeking SEN assessments or services was a growing issue.

“I have a concern about the families of children with special educational needs who come into my office. I had time to go and meet the support groups. They are exhausted.

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"They are fighting for everything. Even though they are the same age as me, to be blunt, they look 20 years older. They look absolutely worn out,” said the West Belfast MLA.

Mr. Baker warned of the potential for long-term impacts.

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"What concerns do you have about their mental health going forward? I think that it is at a cliff edge right now. I have never seen it as bad with people looking for support from my office,” he said.

Prof. O'Neill acknowledged that the issue was a growing one and that she was keen for further research to be carried out in order to inform potential approaches to address it.

"The numbers are increasing. We have to accept that and deal with it. I am very concerned about the idea that the pandemic is associated with that surge, so I am going off to look at the data on that just to see what interventions would work there and whether there are any nuances that we need to be aware of,” she told the committee.

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