Jersey's government is being urged to invest more in the recovery of children and their families, with a warning that the lack of therapeutic services over the last 12 months could affect children’s progress.
Fiona Vacher is the Executive Director of the Jersey Childcare Trust, and has expressed her concerns in a letter to the Children, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel as part of their review of the impact of the Government’s response to the pandemic on children and young people.
The charity supports support children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) as well as those with developmental delay, and who live in families on lower incomes or with additional adversity.
Pictured: JCCT provides support workers to children in nursery.
This includes providing support workers to children in nursery so that they can be fully included by teaching them skills and strategies about how to deal with busy social environments, how to interact with others, and how to play with other children.
“The biggest value of our support, though, is the therapeutic services that are around those children so a speech and language therapist, for example, or a physiotherapist for audiology for their hearing,” Ms Vacher said.
“Those specialists, therapeutic services inform our support workers in terms of how they're supporting children, and the focus of the therapeutic targets that they're trying to help those children to meet.”
However, neither the children, nor the support workers, have had access to the therapeutic services in the past year as they have only recently started again.
At the beginning of the pandemic, staff from the specialist therapeutic services – which include Early Years Inclusion Team, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Health, Physiotherapy and Audiology - were either not able to provide their services to children or moved into other services to support the island’s response to the pandemic.
This, the Executive Director said, has had a severe impact on the children who were previously accessing the services as well as on the quality and value of the charity’s interventions that are usually informed by these professionals.
Pictured: The majority of a child's brain develops before the age of four.
“80% of your brain develops by the age of three and 90%, a further 10%, develops by the age of four,” Ms Vacher said. “If you imagine that the majority of your brain development is done by the age of four, we've got a really small window from conception to four years old when those therapeutic services have the most impact on a child and there's so much evidence now that shows and supports that that impact continues all the way through to adulthood. It literally changes the trajectory of a child's life.”
As an example to the importance of early intervention, Ms Vacher explained how a child the charity started supporting when he was two, completely transformed “his trajectory of life” from having very little engagement with anybody else around him.
“The professionals around him at that point were suggesting that he would be going to Mont A L’Abbé when he reached the age of going to school,” Ms Vacher said.
“We worked with him for two years, our support worker, the therapeutic services around him and his family, and within two years, he was engaging with other children, he learned the skills of how to engage with children, he was giving eye contact to them, he was playing alongside them, he had learned the nursery day routine and he went along as part of that nursery routine, he coped very well with the noise and the rigmarole that goes along with being in a nursery environment, so much so that he actually went to a mainstream school. The professionals around him said ‘goodness, two years previous, we would never have thought that possible’.
“It’s a really transformative time in a child's life and if we think of the number of children who haven't had that persistent intervention for a whole 12 months, that's really significant for their futures.”
Pictured: There are now long waiting lists for the therapeutic services.
While services have now resumed, Ms Vacher is concerned that the children, even those with a high level of need, are now facing long waiting lists and might therefore miss out on their “vital window of opportunity”, which will affect their progress on the long term.
“They are likely to make less progress than if they were to access the interventions at the right time and this will be evident over their lifetime with the effects being felt by our entire community in the coming decades,” Ms Vacher said. “The negative repercussions will cost us far more than the immediate investment required now.
“There definitely will have been an impact for all children from lockdown, particularly though, for the children that we support with special educational needs and disabilities,” Ms Vacher added. “The lockdown seriously exacerbated those difficulties for them. Their lack of access to the therapeutic services throughout that period of lockdown will have had an impact on those children in whichever form of development that they needed that support.
“Each child has different challenges with their development. It could be a physical development, it could be a speech and language difficulty. They all have individual needs that the therapeutic services help.”
Pictured: The charity has been able to provide additional support to the children thanks to donations.
The charity has been able to provide additional support to the children thanks to donations from Jersey Funders Group and other groups but, as Ms Vacher said, more will be needed to prevent lasting impact on children.
“It's been difficult as a charity, but I have to say that our challenge with trying to find enough funding to make this work for families has been made much, much easier because of funders in Jersey. They have asked, ‘What is the need? What do Jersey children and families need?’ and we've made cases for them so that they can clearly see the difference that their funding would make, and they have generously supported us. We've not had to turn any child away from our programme and indeed, we've made sure that we've done as much as we can to make sure that children get the best experience now.
“Now more than ever, I think we need our Government to really be concentrating on how we can invest in those services. We've got lots of plans in place in Jersey, for economic recovery. Now I think we need to focus on the recovery of children and families.”
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