Parents of children with additional support needs left devastated that a playgroup which runs during the school holidays is to close, have started a petition to fight the plans.
The holiday playscheme for children aged four and over with support needs looked after up to 65 kids a week during the summer holidays and 40 in the Easter. Held at Saltersgate School in Dakeith, it was run by Capability Scotland until the charity pulled out last year. The council then put the service out to tender but found no provider to carry it on.
Now with Easter holidays on the horizon the kids face their first holidays without the playscheme in six years.
Parent Gemma Manson set up the petition to save this “invaluable” service, and is determined to fight its closure.
She said: “I started the petition and got a lot of mothers and fathers on board, getting the families to send emails to local councillors.
“I set it up to show the council that this is a invaluable resource that’s needed by so many families in Midlothian and people are not going to take it quietly.
“At the moment I’m trying to get a copy of the previous tender as there are glaringly obvious errors in the process, like giving only 20 days to tender.”
The local authority have offered to give parents the equivalent money to look after their kids during holiday time but Gemma revealed that this offer has not been welcomed.
She said: “The council keep saying that parents are happy to get equivalent supportive money but I’m yet to meet them.
“The impression we get is they are trying to ride it out and scrap it. But we are not leaving it.
“There is nothing else out there for our kids. There is a complete shortage of support.
“They said I could take my son to a football game with the money. But as anybody would know, an autistic child can’t cope with a noisy football match.
“The whole thing stinks. I don’t know what Midlothian Council are going to do, but they need to do something.”
Cara Rogers has two children with autism, seven year old son Jed who attends St Andrews Primary School and her older son Jay who is 12. She has vowed to fight the playgroup closure, and made it clear that she can’t simply leave her boys with a friend or relative as they need professional supervision.
She said: “I’m absolutely devastated. My son Jed is very much a child that needs his routine. In the Christmas holidays he was asking to go to the playgroup as he can’t differentiate between the different holidays.
“Generally day to day Jed needs a lot of supervision. You can’t leave him in a room.
“So the playgroup was a godsend. As a parent you can’t cope for a week or two. You have to do stuff from first thing in the morning until he goes to bed. A lot of parents are in the same boat. To get somebody to watch your children with additional needs, it’s almost impossible.
“That service is what he needs. When he first went he wasn’t sure, but as soon as he got into the routine he was fine. He is going to miss it.”
Jacklyn Miller’s son Diesel, who turns four in April, was hoping to join the playgroup for the first time in the upcoming Easter holidays
She said: “Midlothian is failing the kids. This playgroup was a lifeline for families. Things are getting drawn back left, right and centre, nobody seems to care about us. I think the council should run this playgroup. As this is going to have a huge impact on our kids and our families. It’s really hard to get someone to look after them.
“It’s just terrible, the council need to get something done. Somebody has to take responsibility. At the end of the day our kids have got these additional needs. They are harder to deal with than other kids. I feel that the council are discriminating against them.”
To sign the petition to save the playgroup, go to – www.change.org/p/midlothian-council-midlothian-council-playscheme-for-asn-children-6713ff67-0945-4fb3-92e7-77adf5ecc319
A spokesman for Capability Scotland, which ran the playgroup from 2011-2016, explained why the service came to an end and hinted at the possibility of a new model.
He said: “Our contract with Midlothian Council came to an end on August 31, 2016.
“Following a review of this and similar services we believe the service model of a ‘holiday play scheme’ is outdated and should not be delivered in isolation from term-time activity as it does not fully support the often complex needs of the young people who use it. It had also become increasingly difficult for Capability Scotland to fulfil its obligations to the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) regarding the registration of staff and to meet the expectations of the Care Inspectorate for what is essentially a part-time service.
“At the time we stated that we would be happy to be part of a conversation with the council to design a more modern service model that could fully address the specific needs of the young people who previously used it and their families.”
A Midlothian Council spokeswoman revealed that the local authority hopes to have good news in the near future, she said: “Midlothian Council is working to provide play-scheme support for vulnerable children after the disability organisation, Capability Scotland, announced it was not going to be able to provide the service. The council is now in the process of identifying an alternative solution. Please be assured this is not a financial issue and we will update families when we have further news.”