Pressure on services will grow as schools and demographics change
WE MAY have to rely on wellinformed estimates rather than cast-iron statistics for the incidence of learning disability within British Jewry.
But it is safe to assume that the call on communal services is more likely to increase than decline.
First, because the Strictly Orthodox are forming an ever-greater proportion of the overall Jewish population, they are more likely to seek help within a religiously sympathetic environment rather than the general education system.
Second, as more children have opted for Jewish schooling over the past 10 years, so the Jewish educational network overall is likely to find itself dealing with a higher number of children with some kind of special educational need. Significant initiatives are already in train.
When Kisharon day school moves from being an independent to a statesupported free school, and eventually into a new building in 2019, it will double its pupil capacity to more than 70.
This September, Gesher will open on the campus of Sinai Primary School in Kenton, north west London, specialising in education for children on the autism spectrum and with various communication or behavioural disorders. The school-within-a-school model will enable them to receive expert attention and therapeutic support at the same time as being part of a larger school community.
Launched five years ago, the charity Children Ahead now provides support to 150 boys in Strictly Orthodox schools in Stamford Hill. But according to Matty Beck, development officer for the charity advisory service, Interlink, Children Ahead has a long waiting list.
“When we first started, there was a lot of reluctance from parents and schools to deal with learning disabilities,” she says. “But the stigma has fallen away. People are more open to getting children screened and identified but that is creating pressure on community resources.”
According to Interlink’s conservative estimate, there are more than 550 Charedi children in the Stamford Hill community with mild learning disabilities. But since they are educated in independent rather than state-aided schools, there is no external funding for additional support such as speech and language or occupational therapy.
Whereas, according to the general prevalence of special educational needs in Hackney, around 240 Charedi children would be expected to be beneficiaries of an Education, Health and Care Plan — entitling them to funded educational support — Interlink knows of only two-thirds of that number.
Generally, Jewish agencies agree that the biggest challenge is to ensure continuing support for those who need it after school in order to enable them to live as independently as possible.
The high cost of housing in and around London — provided for those who need assistance with accommodation – is set to add to charity bills.
If Langdon chairman Jonathan Joseph is right, there are more young Jewish people who could be calling on Jewish charities.
The next step is to find them.
Charities predict a rise in requests for services from school-age children