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Mencap launch support programme for families and children with a learning disability

Naomi McMullan at Stormont with her son Joseph for the launch of the Mencap NI support programme for families. Picture by Hugh Russell

NEW services designed to help the development of children with a learning disability have been launched.

Mencap's Family Support Programme aims to improve outcomes for young people.

The charity says children with a learning disability are more likely to grow up in poverty, have poor educational attainment and a greater risk of mental health difficulties.

There are 5,000 children with a learning disability under the age of seven in Northern Ireland.

The family support service will provide programmes to help parents from the birth of their child until the age of seven. This will include support programmes, peer support and training.

Margaret Kelly, director of Mencap NI said, every young child with a learning disability should have access to intervention services that support their development from birth.

"Families of children with a learning disability need access to family support services in every health and social care trust," she said.

"We are launching a programme of support that wants to ensure every child has the best possible start in life."

This includes the E-PAtS (Early Positive Approaches to Support) programme, which is being piloted in Belfast and Omagh.

It supports caregivers at an early stage with sensitive, emotional support, information and practical skills to improve wellbeing and quality of life for children and families. It also supports positive development and reduces the risks of behaviours that challenge.

Aileen Hamill, from Ardglass, whose daughter Nicola was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome 15 months ago, is among those to have benefited from Mencap support.

"Nicola had so many medical problems when she was born, at one stage we did not think she was going to make it, it was one of the worst times of our lives," she said.

"Then she improved medically over time and we could take her home, we were so consumed with keeping her alive, that we never worried or had a problem with the Down’s syndrome. It was a shock, as after you are signed off medically you are on your own and we had no idea how to deal with all the issues and problems with a child with a disability.

"Mencap has been a life line in supporting my family through this time, providing courses, information and advice and now we see a future for our child."

Naomi McMullan at the launch of the Mencap NI support programme for families with children with a learning disability. Picture by Hugh Russell

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