29 JULY 1972, Page 30

Volunteers for children

Eileen Hinton

With the advent of the Welfare State, are voluntary organisations necessary? The Invalid Children's Aid Association, concerned with helping handicapped children and their families since 1888, thinks they are.

ICAA has always been concerned with helping the handicapped child in the context of the family and has, therefore, developed an individual casework service reaching out to children in their own homes.

The Association maintains a team of twenty-two professional social workers who have become skilled in making themselves, and whatever services are available, acceptable to the families. Parents are helped to understand the implications of the child's handicap so that they do not overpress him, yet do not turn him into an independent invalid. These specialised skills are passed on to social work students referred to ICAA by universities and polytechnics.

Towards the end of the last war and during the immediate post-war period, Acts dealing with education, health and children's rights placed firmly on the shoulders of statutory bodies responsibilities which had long been the concern of voluntary bodies. It seemed to many that the need for voluntary effort would necessarily decrease. So too, we are told, will be the case once the newly formed Family Service Departments are operating fully. In fact events have proved to be different and it has become increasingly clear that however comprehensive state provisions may be, there will still be some who fall outside them, or whose needs have not yet been recognised nationally. A case in point has been the problems of intelligent children with severe learning difficulties for whom very little, if any, provision was made ten years ago. This lack of provision was amply illustrated at an International Conference convened by the Invalid Children's Aid Association in 1962. Following the conference the Association set up the Word Blind Centre to undertake research into the nature and causes of dyslexia and to assess children and try out different teaching methods. The report on the research by the Centre Director, Mrs Sandhya Naidoo, was made available earlier this year and a book on the assessment and training of dyslexic children published by the Association is proving an invaluable guide to teachers, psychologists and parents. As the work of the Centre progressed the ICAA became convinced that there was an identifiable body of children with specific reading difficulties who were not helped by conventional remedial tuition and for whom no adequate help was being provided. Indeed their special needs were not even acknowledged in many quarters. To ensure universal recognition of the problem and adequate and equal standards of provision throughout the country the Association felt that these needs should be met by statutory authorities. Consequently efforts have been made to persuade central and local authorities that a need exists and the experience gained at the Word Blind Centre has been made available to as wide a field as possible. There is now evidence that some Education Authorities have set up more effective reading centres and others are in the planning stage. At central Government level the recommendations contained in the Report of the Advisoi y Committee on Handicapped Children are in line with what the Association has been advocating.

Much remains to be done in this field, but the ICAA is essentially a pioneering body and having established that there is a need for further voluntary effort we feel that it should be done by a body solely concerned with this problem. We have been instrumental in helping in the formation of many local dyslexia associations and indeed have made a contribution towards the setting up of a national body which it is hoped will in time meet needs unmet by the statutory services and initiate further research.

Other groups which we are trying to help are the handicapped adolescents who desperately need the opportunity to discuss marriage and employment prospects. So often they come face to face with the realisation of their ' differences ' at a time when they are about to leave the sheltered community of the special school for the harsher working environment, or, as in many cases, the loneliness and heartbreak of being unemployed.

Some of these groups are held at the ICAA's specially adapted Day Centre, others in local halls and schools. At the Centre we are also running pre-school playgroups for handicapped children and their brothers and sisters. By having the opportunity of discussion groups in an adjoining room the mothers gain confidence in allowing their children to play freely. The children themselves are able to express their frustration at their physical limitations in play, and with experienced workers helping to channel this into constructive activity they can be helped to become more independent. An enquiry into the problems of the able-bodied siblings (a group often overlooked) is also being carried out at the Centre.

In addition to the family casework activities and a world-wide information service the Association runs four residential schools. In consultation with the Department of Education and Science, plans are also well ahead with the provision of a new school in the Midlands to help children with severe speech and language impairments. The groups of children helped in all the schools are those not adequately catered for elsewhere.

The junior school in Surrey takes boys from seven to eleven years and the senior school at Seaford, Sussex, takes them from eleven to school leaving age. The aim of both schools is to help the boy and his parents cope with the asthma in an atmosphere of understanding and to give him the confidence to live as normal a life as possible in the future.

At Banstead in Surrey the Edith Edwards House School caters for twentyfour children aged five-and-a-half to twpIve years who do not speak because of severe emotional disturbance. Many of these children display some of the symptoms of autistic children and because of their inability to communicate have become increasingly isolated. To reach them at all a tremendous amount of patience and understanding is required, linked with a great deal of skill and the imaginative use of materials and methods. In Worthing, the John Horniman School takes twenty-four children aged five to nine years who have failed to develop speech due, it is thought, to minimal brain dysfunction. They may either fail to understand the spoken word or to have such poor articulation that they are unintelligible. The school provides education and speech therapy in an understanding environment and teachers, speech therapists, and housemothers work closely together as a team.

Regular contact is maintained with the family of all the children attending the schools. This is done through the Associa tion's social workers or the Local Authority workers, whichever is more appropriate.

Group discussions are held for parents, and often for those whose children have left school.

The aim of the Association is to strengthen the family so that the han dicapped child can be kept at home. Where residential school is necessary all its efforts are directed towards ensuring that child and family are successfully brought together again afterwards.