It is a legal right in New Zealand for all children to have free education that meets their needs. This includes the right to ‘special education’ for people under 21 years old who need extra support, or something different from the usual classroom teaching.
The vision statement of the Ministry of Education, in relation to special education is:
a fully inclusive education system. This means confident schools, confident parents and confident children, where every day every child learns and succeeds.
The statement then expands on this confidence:
When parents, families and whānau are confident, they:
are well informed about services and support that are available
know their child is welcome at their local school.
When children and young people are confident, they:
are learning and achieving at school
want to go to school.
[Read more at the Ministry website.]
In a world (corporate and voluntary) of airy-fairy faddish mission and vision statements, the Ministry’s outline strikes me as down-to-earth and getting to what’s important. Every child, whatever their needs, should be able to access free education that means they can learn, succeed and be happy. I love that we’re aiming for them to want to go to school.
Whether or not we are directly involved in special education, this should be all of our business. All schools need help from the wider community to flourish. You can volunteer as a parent helper or Board of Trustee member, you can buy a cake or bid at a fundraising auction. But special education units require more than even that.
We’re lucky here, in the money the Ministry of Education spends on special education. But, woah, it’s not enough, and it’s often at threat as funding criteria are redefined.
One of the inspiring things about Glennon Doyle Melton’s Momastery blog is that it has spawned a non-profit charity wing that brings Momastery readers together to meet each other’s needs. Often it’s a call for lots of people to donate a small amount for a family in great need, but Monkee-See-Monkee-Do, as it’s called, has started to do other projects too. Watch what they’ve done in a Special School in Baltimore (The Wire fans take note!)
The life of a child with special needs can be awesome or awful depending greatly on how well supported they are by their family and community.
The workload of a parent of a child with special needs is daunting, to say the least. I don’t know about you, but I find the workload of parenting a child with no special needs to be enormous. Imagine (if you are not in this position yourself) adding in a range of extras like physical therapy, frequent medical appointments, hospitalisation, managing medicines, the worry, financial strain and perhaps back strain. These people are heroes. They’re also ordinary people, and they need all the help they can get.
I don’t claim any special knowledge or understanding of the area, so please do feel free to add your own in the comments. I am just conscious that kids with high needs are often unable to advocate for themselves, so others of us need to have them on our radar. Secular humanism and Christianity have in common a deep concern for protecting the vulnerable and recognising their intrinsic value as human beings. A society that sees children with extra struggles as extra special and worth spending lots of love and money on, is one I want to be part of.
If you have any discretionary time or money you are contemplating sending outward, you might like to investigate what support would be useful to your local special school, special education unit or a family with a kid with high needs.
If you have a story to tell about such things, we’d love to hear it in the comments below.
God bless the carers and the givers and the children everywhere.