Babysitting special education: children between two chairs

Playing outside is not an option for all children, they depend on specialized care for this. (Photo: illustrative via Pixabay).

Caring for children in special education is complicated. Playing with children in the neighborhood is not an option, because then they will be bullied or left out. They are in special education and need extra attention for their social development. But it is precisely for these children that post-secondary education has been drastically reduced.

Michelle has a son (age 13) in second year of special education, Eric has an 11 year old son in special education. It has been months for these parents to compromise and annihilate themselves. In the summer of 2021, the after-schools for their children disappeared, and the after-school was scaled back. They want to tell their story, but prefer not to mention their last name.

play football
It is not only about a good place for their child so that they can work themselves or take care of other children in the family, but above all to offer their child with a disability as much support as possible in their social-emotional development. “He likes to play soccer,” says Michelle, “he knows he has to kick the ball, but he has no idea which way. Nor who is on his team. That’s why he prefers to play soccer with me because he has less attachment to the kids in the neighborhood. As a result, he no longer wants to play outside. My parents babysit on Wednesdays, but my dad is already 80 years old. He takes a nap in the afternoon. So my son plays a lot on the iPad.”

To Eric, Michelle’s story sounds familiar. His son is 11 years old, but taller than normal for his age, while mentally he is more at the level of an 8-year-old. “He has no connection with anyone. He is too big for children of his level. He looks 14 years old, but those guys do completely different things.” There is no such thing as just playing outside. “It’s not traffic safe,” says Eric. “Every now and then he can walk alone in the square on the other side of the street. Then he hides his toy rabbit and then looks for him.”

After school and after school with well-qualified staff is what Michelle and Eric want for their children and all their special education classmates. “My son can be himself at the shelter,” says Michelle. “Children accept each other, have no prejudices.” The shelter provided by De Walnoot van Gemiva-SVG. Michelle and Eric are very satisfied with the quality of the reception. Michelle saw De Walnoot as the stabilizing factor for her son during the transition to primary and secondary education. “There was something familiar left and he saw the kids from the shelter at school again.”

Just before the 2021 summer holidays, De Walnoot announced that the after-schools will stop after the holidays. The parents are completely surprised. De Walnut says the reason is lack of space. There is no shortage of staff, says then location director Bregje Vlasblom to Key City. (Create link to article)

Post-secondary schools are also being cut. There is no room for Michelle and Eric’s children on Wednesday afternoon. While on Wednesday afternoons, when the children come home early from school, there is time to play with each other. “On the other days, they don’t get out of school until 3.15pm. It’s a quarter to four before everyone is at NSO and has had something to drink,’ says Michelle. “And an hour later, the first children are already being picked up.”

Only children who fall under the long-term care law (WLZ) can then still go to De Walnoot. Michelle’s son and Eric’s son are also subject to the Youth Act. Michelle doesn’t know if it would help if her son went to WLZ. Eric also has doubts. “WLZ is for children with no prospect of independent social functioning. We do not want that for our son. We want him to be able to live independently one day. We are afraid that a WLZ indication will close doors.” For parents, it sounds like their child is on the wrong list.

Els Annard, location manager for De Walnoot, understands the parents’ frustration. “We want to think along and collaborate. But we have a huge waiting list for the children who come to us in day care or day care. I receive daily calls from parents, GPs and carers. This concerns families in crisis, those children desperately need a place.”

De Walnoot can offer out-of-school care for a limited number of children who fall under the Long-Term Care Act. “Unfortunately not for children with a juvenile law indication,” says Annard. “The cooling center has been dismantled in consultation with the municipality. We are dealing with a ceiling budget, it is very unfortunate, but the money is gone. The jar is empty. We may be able to lend expertise, but we have to pay for that.”

Bob Olders, a board member of the Resonance Foundation, which includes the special schools Michelle and Eric’s children attend, is also very sympathetic. “We will cooperate on all sides to solve this, also by making space available. This is of course not a good thing, the municipality knows that too and it is up to it to act. As a school, we must not spend money or staff on after-school. Another organization will take care of that.”

Study days
No more childcare during holidays and on study days is a big problem for Eric and his wife. They both work from home, out of necessity. They then take turns looking after their eldest son. “We’re very flexible, luckily it’s possible with our work, but you’re constantly erasing yourself,” says Eric. “We start early and work late, because our work also needs to be finished. We do what we can. Our son also plays with his brother, but he needs more. I can’t put a number on it, but we think it slows down and damages development. We give him so much more.”

One day before the autumn holidays, Eric and his wife visited the responsible councilor Abdelhaq Jermoumi. “We have been very well received,” says Eric, “they took their time and Jermoumi really listened to us. But he couldn’t promise us anything at the end of the conversation. Just that it would be higher on his priority list. And the political officer who was there emphasized that it is legally complicated, because there are many parties involved. And that all talks with interested parties have so far ended without success.”

Two weeks later, Councilor Jermoumi emphasizes that he fully understands that it is an undesirable situation for the parents and children involved. And he also understands that everyone points to the congregation. “But organizing childcare is not a task for the municipality,” says Jermoumi. “We have to guarantee the quality of the reception and if it is not good enough, maintain it and it runs through the GGD.”

“We had started a pilot with BSO+ in the Netherlands Rijnland region, where childcare organizations would also start taking care of children from special education,” continues Jermoumi. “Unfortunately, none of the childcare organizations in Leiden have signed up for this. In retrospect, we should never have turned down childcare via De Walnoot until there was an alternative.”

“In Katwijk, a reception organization has signed up for the BSO+ pilot, and it will start in autumn 2023. We also want to talk to them about whether they might be able to accommodate a number of children from Leiden. I will also talk to schools, childcare organizations and other parties about how we can tackle this structurally.”

“I want to scale this up to the Holland Rijnland region,” promises Jermoumi. “BSO+ looked very promising, but it didn’t work. Then we have to look at it again. Regional expert tables will be set up to solve complex problems. This may also be a case for it. Of course, I cannot give a deadline for this to be resolved, but given the urgency, I will quickly address it and have conversations. I will accept my responsibility in this.”

75 days
Eric and his wife know better than anyone that it’s complicated. Eric’s wife has 22 holiday days, while their eldest son is out of school for 75 days a year and is not cared for at De Walnoot. For example, those children who do not appear to be on the correct list and who do not have a WLZ indication still fall between two stools for now.

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