Caring for someone with a mental or physical disability can put a lot of strain on families and the individual alike. Thankfully, there are services operating in Galway which can lighten this workload somewhat.
The Home Share scheme was introduced to the county in 1985 and originally recruited families to provide support for children with disabilities for weekend breaks over the summer months.
BY MICHEÁL O’BRIEN
The programme is provided by voluntary organisation Ability West in partnership with the Brothers of Charity and has grown exponentially since its inception. There are now up to 80 families who offer regular support to people of all ages with mental and physical disabilities.
The scheme is broken up into three areas. Short breaks entails volunteer hosts – families, couples and individuals welcoming people with disabilities to their homes on a regular basis for short periods of time. This can be for a few hours a week, for weekend visits, or for longer holiday-type breaks.
Contract Home Sharing is an extension of this. Host families are required to provide rooms to individuals for a longer period – usually up to 16 nights a month. They can take a single guest for this period or may have a succession of guests to which they have been carefully matched.
The host family receives an annual payment and additional expenses based on the needs of the guest per night completed.
Shared living then is when volunteers offer full or part time accommodation to adults with disabilities, although there are limited opportunities for this in Galway as of yet.
Audrey Reilly, Respite and Community Services Manager with Ability West, says that the scheme centres around offering respite to families with a disabled member.
“The scheme gives the natural family of the disabled person a break and an opportunity to step out of their normal routine for longer periods of time. But it is also quite beneficial for the disabled person availing of our services as well. They are afforded a break from their family which helps them become more independent and form real friendships outside their next of kin.”
The organisation maintains that breaks which involve staying with a host family are universally considered to be much more socially inclusive than respite in traditional segregated services.
Those wishing to volunteer and host a disabled person must go through a bi-annual six week training course and undertake a rigorous vetting process.
“There is a lot of paperwork involved I will admit,” says Audrey. “The requirements to become a host are quite liberal, however. The host family does not have to be a man and woman with children. It can be either or, with children or without, employed or unemployed. All that is needed is home space, a genuine interest in helping and caring and being able to meet certain criteria.”
The organisation looks for what skills or experience a prospective volunteer might possess and how they may deal with certain crisis scenarios during the training course.
After the course is completed, volunteers partake in an assessment not unlike the one required for foster care and a social worker goes to their home to gauge what a family can offer and their own experiences if any with special needs.
Even children are spoken with to see if they would be okay with another child or adult coming to stay with them.
All of this information, as well as Garda clearance, medical records and the provision of three references, are collated by the social worker with their own reference and given to a panel made up of representatives within Ability West and the Brothers of Charity from which they can make their decision on the eligibility of a volunteer.
“Home share acts as a mediator then between host family and natural family. They match individual with special needs with the host family on the basis on what the individual’s needs and what the host family can provide. Things like house location, if the individual has transport needs, if the family has children and so on.
“Each party then is given a penned picture of the other; should they decide upon a match, they meet in a school or day centre and can usually tell from there if the arrangement is going to work or not. We reach a three way agreement and set up when the individual can stay with the host,” Audrey says.
The organisation provides support to the host family and individual then on matters such as wheelchair accessibility, sleeping, toilet, hygiene, education, religion needs. All avenues of difficulty are catered for – which is a testament to the experience and quality of the organisation.
Recently the practice guidelines for hosts were put in accessible book form and will be made on the website at www.abilitywest.ie in the near future. Those interested in the scheme can find more information there also.
Audrey herself is adamant about the merits of the programme. “The scheme provides something worthwhile and fulfilling for the volunteer host and the differently-abled person. Families receive companionship and a chance to make a difference to the lives of everyone in their households and that is truly worth pursuing.”
Galway troop keeps the flag flying for scouting!
“I have a child again.” That was the response of one parent to Chairman of the 14th Galway Scouts, Brendan O’Gorman, after their son returned from an outdoor adventure with the group last summer.
It was that response for Brendan that epitomised the impact lockdown was having on children – and the importance of the outdoors to restoring their wellbeing.
The 14th Galway group, which has boys and girls of all ages up to 18 involved, has become synonymous with the outdoors for that reason, as Brendan explains.
“In the first lockdown last spring, we’d been doing as much as we could online. That was more so to keep the teenagers connected, but it doesn’t work for the younger ones. It’s really just not the same.
“Then, in the summer, when restrictions eased a bit, we got them all outdoors. We were able to bring our older groups on 10-day outdoor experiences and what we were noticing was they were exhausted after the first day of activities,” says Brendan.
As the days went on, he describes it as being like ‘a weight was lifted off their shoulders’.
“They seemed to find the whole living within so many rules very tiring. After the 10 days, they were running around like normal kids. Our normal experience is that they’re full of enthusiasm at the beginning and calm down as it goes on – but this flipped it on its head,” says Brendan.
As a result of Covid restrictions, a decision was taken by the group to focus its energy on the outdoors – investing in tents and returning to what the Scouts has always been about like camping, hiking and outdoor survival skills, he continues.
“By us being active last year, we have seen our numbers grow by 27%. We have had a queue of children and adults wanting to get involved. As time went on, the message was getting stronger that we were safe out in the parks.”
The children and teenagers already involved were going back to their friends, spreading the word and spurring more and more to join.
There was a noticeable improvement in the children’s sociability as the summer went on, says Brendan a welcome sight for parents and volunteers who had seen children go into their shell as they tried to cope with months trapped indoors.
“We operated all through the summer and as the evenings drew in from October, we started meeting on Sunday afternoons rather than weekday evenings. We would have kept going right through January and February, but for the restrictions that came in at Christmas.
Making their return as the latest batch of restrictions eased, small groups were able to meet at Shantalla Park where Brendan says they will continue to meet over the coming weeks and months.
“Last year, we only got to do away trips for the older groups, but this year we have plans for camps in July for all age groups. We’re staying a bit closer to home than we might normally, because there are a lot of new members who mightn’t be as comfortable to be away from home.
“We expect to expand further in September. It’s only week two back and we already have people contacting us wanting to join,” says Brendan.
The Scouts as an organisation has been hit, like many others, by Covid – losing volunteers who have had to step out because of health risks has been a particular challenge, says Brendan.
But 14th Galway has bucked the trend with growing numbers.
“The national organisation has a campaign going to increase awareness of what Scouts is about. In Galway, we have ourselves on the west side of the city, the 13th in Renmore and the Sea Scouts and as we’ve seen, it can be such an important outlet for young people,” says Brendan.
For more information on joining Galway 14th Scouts, visit 14thgalway.ie, or for other groups see scouts.ie.
Galway City Council asked to change speed sign mistakes
Officials in the Transport Department at City Hall have again been asked to replace incorrect speed limit signs on city roads.
Councillor Martina O’Connor (Green) has submitted a Notice of Motion for this week’s meeting of Galway City Council calling for wrong speed signs to be replaced.
Cycling campaigners have also reiterated their plea for correct signs to be put in place – to protect all road users.
It emerged last month that several roads within the city boundary that have speed limits of 50km/h, have speed signs on them suggesting they are in 80km/h zones.
Among the roads with incorrect 80km/h signs are: Upper Cappagh Road, Upper Ballymoneen Road, Rahoon Road, Letteragh Road, Rosshill Road, Dublin Road and the Oranmore Coast Road.
According to Galway Cycling Campaign, the incorrect signage has been on the roads for up to 12 years.
The Council has acknowledged the problem and signalled it will carry out an audit to identify how many signs are wrong.
Cllr O’Connor’s motion reads: “I request Galway City Council Transport Department replace incorrect speed limit signage. This was to be carried out with current rejected bylaws but now needs correction on its own merit for safety particularly of pedestrians and cyclists.”
The Council did not answer a series of specific questions put to it by this newspaper. Instead, it issued a statement on the matter, in which it indicated the incorrect signs would not be corrected until a review of speed bylaws is completed.
The Council said: “In the last two years, Galway City Council undertook (in accordance with national guidance) a review of speed limit bylaws.
“Following extensive public consultation these draft bylaws were presented to the elected members of Galway City Council in September 2020. These proposed Bylaws had included a reduction in the city centre area of speed limits to 30km/h and some increases in limits on outer major roads.
“The proposed bylaws were rejected by the elected members. The Transport Strategic Policy Committee of Galway City Council has charged staff in the Transport Department with the task of further reviewing these draft bylaws. When completed there will follow an audit and review of signage across the city.”
Chair of Galway Cycling Campaign, Kevin Jennings, said that the Council was trying to shift the blame to councillors, when it was the executive that has the powers to change the signs to the correct speeds.
Mr Jennings said: “The issue of the speed limits review in autumn 2020 has nothing to do with the issue of the current incorrect signage on our roads. The Council’s statement blamed our councillors. The councillors are not responsible for the erection and maintenance of road signage; the Council is.
“The default limit in the entire Galway City administrative region, a built-up area, is 50km/h unless a special speed limit bylaw applies.
“Signs on at least seven roads say the speed limit is 80km/h. This is erroneous signage. The Council is responsible for the speed limit signs.”
Cllr O’Connor’s motion piles pressure on the Council to rectify the incorrect signs, and it is on the agenda for today’s (Monday) meeting.
Rice cookers removed from Direct Provision Centre rooms
An official inspection of the Direct Provision centre in Salthill found cooking appliances in several bedrooms of the accommodation for asylum seekers.
The annual inspection of the Eglinton in Salthill, by the International Protection Procurement Services, on behalf of the State, highlighted some issues for Maplestar Ltd, the operator of the accommodation, to resolve.
The inspection took place in November 2020, and the report was released by the Department of Justice to Galway City Tribune last week.
The hotel can accommodate 210 at capacity; on the day of the inspection there were 143 people living there, including families and single women.
No visitors were allowed at the centre during Covid-19, according to the report.
Meals are provided at the centre, but the report highlighted that a number of residents used their own cooking facilities in their bedrooms, which was against house rules.
During the inspection rice cookers were found in five bedrooms. In a letter of response to the inspector, management at the Eglinton outlined that it had rectified a number of issues, including removing rice cookers from bedrooms.
One resident “was informed of the dangers of cooking in the room and cooker was removed by management”, according to the response.
The report notes that meals prepared by a chef employed by the centre are served three times a day. Lunches for schoolchildren are also provided and there is access to snacks outside of the centre’s breakfast, lunch and dinner hours.
Some other mostly cosmetic issues in relation to rooms were mentioned by the inspector, and were subsequently dealt with, according to management.
A previous annual inspection report in 2019 had also highlighted that cooking facilities were being used in some of the bedrooms in the hotel.
“I can understand that even if you did have communal cooking facilities why you would be tempted to use other things in your own space. It’s very sad. I actually get shivers even thinking about it because people can be in Direct Provision for long periods of time,” said Galway-based senator, Pauline O’Reilly.
“Particularly for families, but also for single people, you have to have some element of privacy. When you look at human rights, people do have an entitlement. So even in the best-case scenario in these communal settings with a communal kitchen that’s not what families should have to survive. It could be a case that you’re not getting on with other people, all kinds of social issues arise when you’re living with people for a long period of time.”
She said that abolishing Direct Provision was a top priority of the Green Party in Government, and had brought forward a white paper on it. She wants “own-door accommodation”
“The timeline to get this done over the lifetime of the Government will be a challenge. Obviously, that’s the commitment and that’s one of the key things for us,” said Senator O’Reilly.
“We have to be careful in any conversation around this not to be pitting people against each other. I don’t think that is the reality. Actually, the numbers in Direct Provision are relatively low in the overall population. And so, it should be achievable [to end DP] in terms of housing.
“The whole purpose of the plan is that people who can afford to pay, will pay for their housing. It’s not a case of everybody gets something for free. It’s a case-by-case basis just like it is with anyone else in the population.
“Whether you pay or not will depend on your means. You could be coming from areas of conflict where people have very high skill levels but they’re fleeing conflict or disaster zones,” she added.
The Department of Justice confirmed that phasing out of Direct Provision had commenced.
“Emergency accommodation is being phased out. This accommodation is not suitable for long-term use, and comes with a high degree of congregation. Single people who do not know each other can end up sharing rooms. Good progress has been made in terms of closing emergency accommodation this year and moving residents into accommodation with better standards,” it said.
The Department also pointed to a number of other short-term improvements.
Asylum seekers can now open Irish bank accounts, which was not the case up until this year.
A spokesperson said that secondary school students living in DP no longer have to pay international fees when applying for post-leaving cert and third level courses; they pay the same rates as Irish students.