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Updated 05 April 2016

Who will look after my disabled child while I work?

This is the question one mother asked the SA Federation for Mental Health. With the Department of Health promising more money for the special school sector, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for many desperate parents.

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Schools and facilities that provide specialised care for children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities and mental health issues are scarce in South Africa.

Generally, they have limited space and also tend to be very expensive.

As a result, many parents are unable to find placement for their children, or are unable to afford the fees, and the children are not able to receive any form of education.

The South African Federation for Mental Health often receives inquiries such as the one below from parents desperate to find placement for their children in special schools:

“My name is N*, I am 24 years old and I do not earn much.

I have 2 daughters. One is 5 years old and currently in Grade R my 2nd born is 2 years and 4 months and is staying at home with my mom at a rented 2 room shack as we do not have our own house.

My younger daughter fell ill at the age of 1 year 8 months suffering from cerebral palsy.

She stayed in hospital for a month and when she was discharged the doctors told me that she is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy a lifelong disability and she won’t have a normal childhood. Before she fell ill she had a normal childhood.

I need your help finding her the best affordable day care because I have been search and searching. Yes I came across some wonderful facilities but the problem is money as these facilities are too expensive and I cannot afford them.

Please help, I just want a safe, good environment to accommodate my daughter as I am working. Please help.”

*name removed to protect privacy.

Read: Mental health watch system launched in South Africa

What should be done?

Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, quoted in an article published by News24 (More Gauteng schools to be built – MEC. 2016-03-08), stated that more schools will be built in Gauteng with the R39bn budget that Finance MEC Barbara Creecy allocated to the province's education department.

In the article MEC Lesufi also states that the special school sector will be receiving R6.39bn.

The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is encouraged by fact that Government recognises the need to prioritise the special school sector, especially during Intellectual Disability Awareness month which is commemorated in March.

Throughout this coming month SAFMH is advocating for the right to education of children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities, and we hope to see a large portion of the funds allocated to special schools going towards improving access to schools for these children.

Children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities require specialised care, and are often not included as part of the education system because it is wrongfully believed that they cannot benefit from any form of education or stimulation.

Schools and facilities that provide specialised care for children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities are scarce, have limited space and also tend to be very expensive.

As a result, many parents are unable to find placement for their children, or are unable to afford the fees, and the children are not able to receive any form of education.

A child with an intellectual disability still has the right to education appropriate to their developmental level and capabilities, and should not be prevented from opportunities to learn and develop their abilities.

It is important that both Government and parents/ caregivers recognise the fact that access to appropriate basic education for these children is essential, and not providing these services is a violation of their basic human rights.

It is also important to recognise that there are many benefits to these children receiving appropriate education and stimulation, as this has the potential to greatly increase their level of functionality.

Fear of stigma and discrimination sometimes leads to families choosing to keep their child with an intellectual disability at home permanently, rather than taking the child to attend a special school or a stimulation center.

This can prevent the child from learning important life skills and from developing and reaching their true potential.

The younger a child is when they begin to receive appropriate education and care, the better their chances are for future development and independence.

It is important that as soon as parents begin to suspect their child might have an intellectual disability, they get the appropriate help and support for themselves and their child.

For more information and to see how you can help, visit www.SAFMH.org

Read more:

Is this the worst school building in SA?

The children who may never sit for matric in SA 

Does South Africa care about early childhood development? 

 
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