THE father of a local baby living with cerebral palsy has called on the Education Minister to support a specialist school which he said could change his son’s life.
Neville Reid’s son Jack has been offered a place at the Buddy Bear Trust in Dungannon from September, but may only spend one or two hours a week there due to the school’s funding difficulties. Currently the facility receives no funding from the Department of Education as it is an independent school.
Jack suffers from severe stiffness and it has been suggested he may require a wheelchair, but the six-month-old’s dad said his son has every chance of walking if he receives specialist help and care from staff at the specialist Buddy Bear Trust.
“Jack’s attendance at the Buddy Bear school will make a long-term difference to his health,” said Neville. “Jack is quite stiff but the staff there are trained and would undoubtedly try everything to get him walking. Jack needs that - he is not going to get that level of help in a mainstream school.”
Neville called on Minister John O’Dowd to set aside money for the school, especially in light of the recent announcement of a £173 million investment in schools across Northern Ireland.
“The school has the facilities, the know-how and even a specialist Hungarian doctor but they desperately need more money,” said the father of two. “At the minute Jack might get to the school for an hour or two a week, which is great, but the more money the school is working with the more that will benefit all the children attending. I would urge the minister to seriously think about providing money for the school.”
A spokeswoman for the Department said, “The Department of Education has approved the Buddy Bear School as suitable for the admission of children with special educational needs under Article 26 of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.
“Education and Library Boards can place a child in this independent school should a statutory assessment make a recommendation for conductive education/therapy.
“If an ELB places a child in the school, the Board will pay any fees due in respect of the child’s education, board and lodging and may also provide transport to facilitate attendance at school.”
Meanwhile school chairman Brendan McConville said he was delighted that the Orange Order has added their support for the facility.
“Our children come from all sections of the community and its important that big organisations such as the Orange join with individuals, clubs and businesses to help the most vulnerable children in our community,” said Mr McConville.
“We are delighted that Mr Edward Stevenson Grand Master of the Grand Orange Order of Ireland and Mrs Olive Whitten Grand Mistress of the Women’s Orange Order together with Mrs Hilda Winters have added their support to help promote and raise funds for children at the Buddy Bear School in Dungannon.
“I know that we are blessed to have dedicated teachers. We simply wish to add another resource to help make a lifetime of difference to a child and a family. We make no promises but we do offer hope and help.”
Personalised copies of “the Gathering at Dan Winters” will be available to the Orange Lodges and individuals, and voluntary donations can be made directly to the Buddy Bear Trust or at www.justgiving.com/buddybeartrust.