Video editing: Miguela Xuereb
Parents are spending around €600 a month as they rack up bills on private therapy which is no longer being offered at the Child Development Assessment Unit due to ongoing industrial action.
A mother who spoke to Newsbook.com.mt, explained that occupational therapists at the CDAU are following a directive which left them with no other option but to resort to therapies at private clinics costing them around €35-40 an hour.
The family took the decision after they waited for some four months. Her daughter’s condition cannot be aided through medical treatment and they can only make use of therapy.
Newsbook.com.mt reached to the Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability Oliver Scicluna on the issue.
The CDAU carries out an assessment on children who are referred to the unit for various limitations or difficulties. A variety of services are offered at the CDAU, including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy among other services.
The different services are aimed for child with autism, global development difficulties, learning difficulties, ADHD, cerebral palsy, head injuries and other syndromes.
The CDAU offers therapy either individually or in groups.
One of the services on offer is that of occupational therapy which addresses physical and environmental areas so as to promote independence in learning, play and self-help tasks.
Therapists also work in close collaboration with the children’s family members, teachers and with other professionals of the multidisciplinary team.
Scicluna explained that at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, occupational therapists started providing online sessions instead of sessions in person. He mentioned cases of which the commission was aware where individuals have not been receiving therapy they require before the pandemic.
He highlighted that the CDAU is not properly equipped and is also short on human resources. Citing the Equal Opportunities Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Scicluna underlined that the government has a duty to provide such services.
Scicluna also commented on the need to ensure that individuals with a disability receive the therapy they need with the same frequency that they need it. He said he was not disputing the quality which is of a high standard.
A voucher system
The Commissioner highlighted that without a doubt there are families who cannot afford to pay for therapies at private clinics. Asked if families had other options or forms of assistance, Scicluna explained that there are no alternatives.
Since such services are on offer through the national health care system, resorting to private clinics is not covered. There are several services which are offered by the government, however, this does not include therapy.
“We’re failing these individuals,” Scicluna stressed, adding that a solution is needed.
As a commission, it has been suggested that the government should provide vouchers to affected individuals in order to cover the costs. Scicluna highlighted that unlike giving money to assist families in such situations, vouchers would minimize the risk of abuse.
“We shouldn’t allow Covid-19 undo the work in inclusion”
The unprecedented situation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic should not undo all the work done throughout the years in inclusion, Scicluna warned.
Asked about a hypothetical scenario where teaching would be moved online, Scicluna said that perhaps safe spaces in schools are created for children with disability who cannot follow online classes. He warned however that such a measure should be only temporary in order to not segregate students.
Students with disabilities as well as students from difficult social backgrounds have missed out on their education and fallen through the system, Scicluna warned, as he highlighted that virtual learning does not work for everyone.
The Commissioner urged all stakeholders to keep people with disabilities in their mind when taking a decision.
Watch the full interview:
Children have missed out
Asked about the situation with the Early Intervention service, Scicluna told Newsbook.com.mt that this situation has been ongoing since July 2019.
“No one spoke out about it except for affected parents,” Scicluna remarked, adding that directives issued by the union were lifted after after a year only for coronavirus to hit the service.
“The ministry deployed Early Intervention teachers in primary schools due to the coronavirus mitigation measures,” he explained.
Scicluna suggested that instead of having Early Intervention teachers, there should be resource workers who are not necessarily teachers.