‘We shouldn’t have to fight to get the support we need for our kids’

Parents have shared their frustrations over a lack of support for their children with special needs. With the general election looming on July 4, the Manchester Evening News chatted to families at a soft play centre in Westhoughton, Bolton, to find out whether any party has their support and what they think is needed from government.

Mum-of-four Sarah Kelly told us she has no intention of voting and feels let down by the entire system. With all her children having special needs, she says she’s struggled to get the help they require and has had to ‘fight for it’ on her own.

Her eldest son Thomas, 15, has been diagnosed with autism and possibly ADHD, but he was 14 before he even got the diagnosis. “Thomas self harms and It was only through CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service] that he got the autism diagnosis as before that we’d just been waiting and his school wasn’t much help,” said Sarah, who lives in Great Lever.

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“You get help for it, but you’ve got to fight for it. You don’t get anyone saying ‘this is where you need to apply, you need to do this, that and the other’. You’ve got to find out about it all off your own back.

“There’s no one there that’ll help point you in the right direction. Unless you’ve got friends with children with them sort of needs that have gone through it and they say to you ‘you have to do this’ and ‘this is what we did’, there’s no-one that helps you.”

Mum Lucy Hall has three children and has encountered similar problems trying to access support. Her eldest son, nine-year-old Zac has autism, but they’ve been on a waiting list for her middle son, seven-year-old Noah, to be assessed for ADHD since last year.

Emma Gill speaks to mum Sarah Kelly, right. Centre is Sarah's mum Deirdre Longworth
Emma Gill speaks to mum Sarah Kelly, right. Centre is Sarah’s mum Deirdre Longworth
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

“We’ve finally got an appointment for July, but it has taken forever to get anything,” said Lucy, who lives in Horwich. She feels that too many services are using Covid as ‘an excuse’ when in reality it’s more likely staffing issues and believes there should be greater transparency to help people decide who to vote for.

Planning to support Labour, who she hopes could make a difference, she would like to see the Tories out of power as she feels they ‘don’t care about anybody but the obscenely rich’.

As a student midwife nearing the end of her three-year course, Lucy says it’s left her with an ‘obscene amount of debt’, estimating that with £10,000-a-year course fees and the loans she’s taken to live off, she’ll owe around £60,000.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “They want people to work for the NHS, but they want people to pay to work for the NHS. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really pay it off, as more interest will be added.”

Student midwife Lucy with son Elijah
Student midwife Lucy with son Elijah
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

The mum of three, whose youngest son Elijah has just turned four, believes those training for essential jobs like teachers, NHS and public services, should not have to pay tuition fees.

“They want you, so why should you get yourself into all that debt,” said Lucy, whose partner stays at home and is carer to her two eldest sons. I mean the wage itself isn’t going to be fantastic when I first qualify, so I am worried about how money’s going to be once I’ve started.”

Like most families, she says they’ve struggled during the cost of living crisis and it’s that which Catalina Sastre, owner of Party and Play Funhouse in Westhoughton, says has made soft play a ‘luxury treat’ for so many.

She says the industry hasn’t really recovered post Covid and feels businesses are just expected to keep on paying higher taxes and wages and are never any better off.

Her insurance has risen 86 per cent in the last 12 months and from April her business rates are expected to rise by £25,000. She’s not convinced any party will make a real difference to working people, saying ‘the Tories have let themselves down’ and Labour leader Keir Starmer ‘is not showing himself as a leader’.

Emma Gill speaks to soft play owner Catalina Sastre
Emma Gill speaks to soft play owner Catalina Sastre
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

“I don’t believe that any party at the minute is demonstrating that they are leaders,” said Catalina, who believes issues are never properly dealt with – just avoided – leaving the general public ‘frustrated’.

“They’re not creating policies that people want or need and I think that’s where they need to change. They can look at social media and listen to what people are saying, but are we actually taking it on board and listening? No.

“I don’t see that any political party has the oomph to be a leader or is deserving of a vote and that’s such a sad thing when you think what women did years ago to get the vote.”

Catalina, whose children are 14 and nine, says they pick up on what is happening, seeing people having to work so hard for such little in return and believes young people will question joining the workforce and paying such large taxes when public services are falling apart.

“These kids are not stupid. They’re actually looking and they’re realising how much their parents have got to work, that none of us can get into the NHS, none of us can get a doctor, you can’t get a dentist, so why?

“Why should they go out and get a job and work all these hours, trying to get a work life balance? Why are they going to go into the work environment and work 40 hours plus, for what? When such a large percentage is took out in taxes that is meant to provide police, education, the NHS. It’s failing, there is a massive problem somewhere, but we don’t deal with it, we just constantly blame each other.”

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