Your daughter’s not a criminal, so why does she need a lawyer?
June 2 2021
Emma Bara discusses how she was encouraged to hire a lawyer by the local authority, to ensure her child was allowed to go to the school that would best support her special educational needs. She considers the impact that such a battle can have on child with special needs and disabilities going into adulthood.
‘Your daughter’s not a criminal, so why does she need a lawyer?’
That’s what a friend of mine asked me recently. I was explaining about our battle to get our 11 year old into the secondary school of her choice. The local authority’s officer in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Team had just advised us to get a lawyer. Our daughter wants to attend a specialist school for hearing impaired children, that can support all her communication needs. The officer had called to tell us that the local authority was recommending a mainstream secondary school that can’t.
About our daughter
Our daughter, Adi, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour when she was two years old. After a full year of intensive surgery, radio and chemotherapy, she was declared cancer free. The tumour and the treatment left her with a range of disabilities, including severe to profound deafness in both ears.
Adi simply wants to be a ‘typical’ teenager, gossiping with friends, making plans to go out and discussing their futures. Unfortunately, she finds joining in conversations in the playground and discussions in the classroom pretty impossible. The strain of trying to hear and understand means that she is usually too exhausted to socialise after school. Very few kids have the patience or empathy to accommodate her.
Like other children with additional needs, Adi has the capacity and the desire to learn. She is desperate for independence and is constantly planning her future career. She will need help with that, but we know that Adi will use every bit of learning to become a confident and useful member of society. However, we also know that if she is put in the wrong school, she won’t be able to keep up with her peers and her spirit will begin to fade.
Efficient Use of Resources?
So, we all want Adi to go to a specialist school. It was purpose build for kids with hearing impairment and has a curriculum that is dedicated to building communication skills. We count ourselves very lucky that there is one within commuting distance. There she will be amongst peers who are all looking for their place. They all face the same issues and support each other in finding solutions together. Unfortunately, the Local Authority believes that is not an ‘efficient use of resources’.
We disagree strongly. Failing to invest in Adi now would not only be an inefficient use of resources but would incur greater costs down the line. Failing to provide the correct provision for Adi and children like her, will see these children feel excluded and frustrated. At 11 years old, Adi is already aware of the lack of understanding around her. She is feeling the strain of not knowing which school she is going to. Her anxiety levels have increased and she has become more tearful at school. The Local Authority’s program to help children transition to secondary school only compounded the problem. The person talking to Adi assumed she would be attending the mainstream school, which just confused and distressed Adi more.
Disabled people, always complaining…….
On social media we see many people with disabilities who are angry and frustrated at the lack of understanding and support they receive. Many talk about how their mental and physical health has suffered over the years. We also see people dismissing their concerns; “oh, look! They are off again. Here they go……moan, moan, moan”.
But I am seeing, right now, the struggle starting for Adi. Why do we need to engage legal assistance to get my daughter into a state school? Why do we and the Local Authority need to waste time, money and energy arguing about this? Adi had visited both schools. She found the deaf school welcoming and was relaxed and happy chatting to the staff. However, after the visit to the mainstream school, Adi was distressed and tired – it had been exhausting to walk around, the staff had been distant, and she had not seen anyone else with a hearing impairment. Which school would you choose for your child?
When denied the right school, children with additional needs are unable to meet their full potential. It can also be detrimental to their physical and mental health, and their ability to function independently in adulthood.
At 11 years old, Adi is already fighting for something that her mainstream peers don’t have to. Whilst her classmates are excitedly talking about their new schools, Adi cannot join in. AGAIN!
So it is not surprising that there is anger in adulthood, and there are people with mental health issues. The feelings of helplessness and isolation build up over the years. So, we should expect the calls for more resources to be allocated to supporting disabled people with mental health issues. These are circumstances that have been engineered over the lifetime of individuals who face one battle after another after another.
It really doesn’t have to be this way.
People with disabilities and additional needs bring fresh perspectives, new ways of approaching life, business and customer care. We are very fortunate in the UK. The facilities and expertise necessary exist to ensure all of our kids achieve the very best they can. We can empower people, ensuring they access employment and engage in society. It is essential that we don’t waste this precious opportunity because of short-sightedness and prejudice. Treating people with additional needs like criminals, making them fight for basic rights such as quality education will only serve to alienate and isolate an already vulnerable group. It will undoubtedly cost far more in the long term both socially and economically.
The solution is simple.
Give Adi, and children like her, the right tools and support in childhood. Enable and empower them to actively participate in society; to live independently, to earn money, and to follow their dreams. Show them they are as valuable as other pupils, and watch them flourish and believe in their own abilities.
A genuine investment in them now, is a significant saving for the future. As individuals become more self-sufficient, they become less dependent on state assistance. The right investment will bring another level of diversity and richness that our society can only benefit from. My daughter really doesn’t need a lawyer, she just needs the same opportunities as everyone else.
Emma Bara is proud parent of two. She and husband, David, set up wecanaccess.com. Their aim is to ensure the world is a more accessible and inclusive place for their kids and others like them.
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