As cutbacks to statutory services begin to bite across Northern Ireland, leading UK children’s disability charity Newlife Foundation is supporting more and more families across the six Provinces.
Families like the McCrackens from Magherafelt in County Londonderry, who are involved with the care of their two disabled grandchildren, Callum and Reece.
Newlife has provided the family with a ‘Kit Box Service’ loan of targeted sensory aids to encourage the boys’ development. Callum and Reece – two of five-year-old triplets – are visually impaired and have been provided with a range of equipment to encourage visual focus, co-ordination and stimulation.
Grandmother Caroline McCracken said: “Equipment of this sort is so, so dear, which makes this service so fantastic; every wee bit helps families of disabled children. The toys have different textures and noises which are important to the boys.”
She added: “When you have disabled and sick children you want to do your best for them and being able to loan the toys so they can decide what they like and don’t like to play with is a huge help to families – we are all learning as we go along.”
The Kit Box – which contains around £400 of specialist equipment – was delivered in preparation for the long school summer holidays, a time when many children with learning and developmental needs quickly become bored and frustrated because they are out of their regular routines and may not have access to condition-specific toys.
Newlife Lead Nurse Karen Dobson said: “Play is important to all children, but for those with a disability the opportunity to access a range of interesting and varied aids may not be a reality. Content of boxes differs, dependent on the need of the child. Some of this equipment is around £200 for a single item; the Newlife Kit Box scheme was launched to help alleviate this financial burden and to enable children to trial equipment.”
In County Tyrone, Mum Kathleen Devlin from Omagh contacted Newlife for help in giving her ten-year-old daughter the independence she craves. Megan – a pupil at Arvalee School and Resource Centre in Omagh – has Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus and Epilepsy; she is currently awaiting surgery to realign her hip. She has outgrown her specialist buggy and wheelchairs offered by statutory services are too heavy, both for Megan to propel and Kathleen to be able to lift in and out vehicles.
Kathleen said: “What Megan needs is a lightweight manual wheelchair so she can join in more activities at school and home and not have to rely on other people to push her around. She has been able to trial one of these wheelchairs and it was amazing – it was so light that Megan could move it with her fingertips.”
The wheelchair will also offer appropriate postural support and safety harness, its special tilt facility would allow her to rest when she is recovering from seizures and the frame will accommodate oxygen and suctioning equipment.
However, the wheelchair is £5,023 – so Newlife is appealing to ‘local heroes’ to come forward to fundraise or donate towards the cost. In the first six months of 2013 Newlife has funded £45,699 of equipment for 28 children in Northern Ireland.
Newlife CEO Sheila Brown said: “Newlife guarantees that 100 per cent of any gift or donation will go directly to provide Megan with the lightweight manual wheelchair she needs. Any money raised surplus to her requirements will be used to fund equipment for other disabled and terminally ill children in Northern Ireland.”
If you think you can help, the Newlife Community Fundraising Team can be contacted on freephone 0800 988 4640. Any individual or organisation thinking of running a fundraising event is asked to contact the team, who can offer support and guidance.
In addition, Newlife’s ‘Just Can’t Wait’ service provides emergency loans of equipment to families of children receiving end of life care; the aim is to deliver wheelchairs, buggies, specialist beds and hoists to families’ homes within 72 hours.
Newlife Lead Nurse Karen Dobson said: “Although this is a very sensitive service to promote, we have helped more than 100 families across the UK through Just Can’t Wait, including several in Northern Ireland. It is the only national emergency equipment loan service in the UK and we are currently looking at expanding the range and amount of equipment available as more and more health professionals and families become aware of how we can help.”
For further information about any of the charity’s services – which are all free of charge – contact the freephone Newlife Nurse Helpline on 0800 902 0095 or email firstname.lastname@example.org