SDLP Down District Councillor Colin McGrath, the party health spokesperson, has strongly criticised the decision to cut funding for Music Therapy provision at Knockevin Special School in Downpatrick.
He has called on Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to retain the Music Therapy service delivered to students at Knockevin and added, “This is a vital and integral service provided to the students at the school. It is a service that helps the education of young people and provides an invaluable method of communication for those who may not be able to communicate in other ways.
“It literally is a service that can unlock the world for those that receive it. For our Health Minister to cut this service indicates that all is up for grabs and nothing is safe in our health service anymore. The Health Department mandarins have the opportiunity to ‘cherry-pick’ the services they are cutting. For this Music Therapy service to be selected is incredible and shameful.
“In light of the recent budget cuts enforced from the Assembly it is essential that this decision is quickly reviewed to allow the continuation of this service that aids the educational development of young people at Knockevin and other schools across Northern Ireland, and provides families and teaching staff with the progress they crave for their children and students.
“For these young people, this is not an additional activity, but as essential bridge, an integral service.”
Principal Anne Cooper said, “The benefits to some students of musical therapy in Knockevin cannot be underestimated. Their needs are so specific and for this reason each one is selected individually to go on the music programme. We can’t emphasise enough how important this is for them. The music therapy is their gateway to other opportunities that may not be available through any other channel.
“These students benefit from the music as it helps their communication and emotional wellbeing, and promotes their personal development, provides fun and fulfilment and is an important social experience for many of them.
“For most there are no other therapeutic options or channels that we we use. They are chosen on the basis that they are responding to this music enviromnment. It is about breaking into their world and helping them develop as best they can. Our music therapy has to date been very successful, a real lifeline.”
Julie Jordan Music Teacher said, “For the relatively small sum of money involved there is such a huge outcome in helping these students. Music is an essential party of their education. Now they will be losing their voice, their way of communicating with the world. For some this is their only way of communicating with the world.”
Down News spoke to a number of conerned parents at the school today and their disbelief and frustration at the Ministers decision was palpable. No-one could understand why such a vulnerable group had been targetted by the cuts.
Parent Kelly O’Reilly from Downpatrick, with her son James, said, “This service has to be retained. It is critical for the development of these students. The music sessions are an import period of respite for my son and it provides a key relief from anxiety.” James’ grandfather James O’Reilly added, “This music therapy is so crucial towards their emotioanl and social development. It helps to stabilise some, and you just have to see their deamaour in these sessions to understand what this means.”
Paula Dillon with her daughter Anna also explained, “Many of these children don’t speak and the music provides important work to help them speak. My daughter had not spoken for a period of years and the music helped her to start communicating again and making vocal noises. As parents we have seen this at work and Knockevin school is providing an extremly specialised and important service which cannot be replaced. The staff are just fanatstic They know how to help them communicate.”
Another parent Celia Lynn-Hawkins from Ballynahinch also added, “This is not a luxury. It is essential. Stopping the funding for these students will not make a real saving.”
Whatever the Health Minister decides to do will be determined by three key issues… how much resources he has to spend, what political pressures he has to work with, and his conscience. As an outgoing Minister, Mr McGimpsey can make one vital last decision and support these young people who suffer severe behavioral and physical conditions. It is not too much to ask. Education is everyone’s human right… even those who cannot speak for themselves.