Parents fight to save clubs for disabled children

Please don't steal our fun time - children and parents pictured at the Action for Children youth club in Spalding. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG120315-204TW
Please don't steal our fun time - children and parents pictured at the Action for Children youth club in Spalding. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG120315-204TW
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Profoundly disabled children will lose their only chance to socialise if the county council axes specialist after-school, youth and holiday clubs.

Parents are fighting the planned cuts which will hit pupils from The Garth School in Spalding, Willoughby School in Bourne, Gosberton House School and others in Lincolnshire.

Sarah-Jane Russell with her son, Levi (9). SG120315-209TW

Sarah-Jane Russell with her son, Levi (9). SG120315-209TW

Children with autism, cerebral palsy and conditions like global development delay – some in wheelchairs and some unable to speak – rely on the clubs run by Action for Children, with their specialist trained staff, to put fun in their lives.

Mum Sarah-Jane Russell says her son Levi (9), who has a long list of disabilities, is like most of the children who attend the clubs. He will simply have nowhere to go if they are dropped. She said: “He loves school, he loves going to the clubs. If it wasn’t for the clubs he wouldn’t have a social life outside of school. I haven’t told him yet. I think a lot of mums haven’t told their kids because we are just hoping we can get something for them.”

Executive headteacher Daran Bland, who oversees Spalding’s Garth and Priory Schools, said the children have severe disabilities and complex behaviours and health care needs. He said: “You can’t just say ‘what are you going to do at the weekend?’ – they can’t go to Scouts, Cubs or Beavers and you can’t just pick up the ‘What’s On holiday guide’ for children within South Holland.”

Parents have launched petitions in a bid to save specialist clubs for the disabled children they describe as “some of the most vulnerable members of our community”.

I can’t even imagine how he will cope without the clubs.

Mum Sarah-Jane Russell

On Friday county council children’s service manager Andrew McLean urged people to take part in a consultation on the clubs’ future but, when we asked how parents could participate, a press officer said: “Consultation has now finished, the results will now be drawn into an impact assessment made to the relevant committees – Scrutiny April 24 and Executive May 5.”

The council contract with club organisers Action for Children ends on March 31, but it’s been extended to September 30.

Parents fear the council is trying to “push” children with severe physical and mental disabilities into mainstream clubs.

Mr McLean admits the authority is “exploring how we can support other providers in the market to become more inclusive for children with disabilities”.

Amanda Matthews daughter Phoebe (14) are desperate for the clubs to stay open. SG120315-206TW

Amanda Matthews daughter Phoebe (14) are desperate for the clubs to stay open. SG120315-206TW

Mum Alyson Commons attended Thursday’s specialist youth club in Spalding with daughter Sophie (17), who goes to Willoughby School, and says mainstream youth clubs failed her daughter.

Alyson said: “Here they are accepting of each other. My daughter has got severe special needs and this is an opportunity for her to have a social life, which she wouldn’t otherwise have. We tried her at our local youth club and it really didn’t work.”

Sarah-Jane has collected 180 signatures on her paper petition and is asking readers to back the online petition on http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-our-social-clubs-for-disabled-children-in-Lincolnshire.html

Her son, who attends Garth School, has Fragile X syndrome, ADHD, autism, hyperkinetic behaviour disorder, gait dyspraxia, global development delay, social and communication delay and a malformed skull.

Sarah-Jane said: “I can’t even imagine how he will cope without the clubs.”

Phoebe Matthews (14), a pupil at Willoughby School, has cerebral palsy which affects all four limbs and is in a wheelchair.

Her mum, Amanda, said: “She knows what she likes and she really looks forward to coming to the club.”

After school clubs are held at individual schools.

Children from several local schools attend a youth club held at Garth School on Thursday nights, which alternates between bowling at Alleycatz in Spalding.