Families of children with speech and language difficulties who attend the I CAN Early Years Centre now find themselves forced to fight for the very right to have their children provided with intensive speech and language therapy in their pre-school years. This is the time when huge improvements can actually be made. The closure of this centre will take away from children who are dependent on this vital service, the ability to communicate and interact with family and peers, enabling a child to enjoy the same quality of life as other children have and should have in their school years. The taking away of this service from families is a denial of basic rights. There must be a community based campaign, uniting parents, children, staff and the general public. A strong campaign can force the Education Minister Caitriona Ruane to give the paltry sum of £85,000 per annum which is required to keep this centre open. That is even less than the SEELB Chief Executive’s annual salary – to fund a centre to teach 20 children!
It is important that such a campaign also demands long-term funding to meet children’s and staff’s needs, as opposed to the year on year threat of closing due to a lack of funding. Given Ruane’s track-record in attacking the pay, terms and conditions of classroom assistants in the past, parents cannot afford to rely on the Minister’s decency or sense of fair-play. It will require a fighting campaign to secure the long-term funding needed to maintain this vital service.