New laws to protect kids with special needs, more support in pre-schools needed: Survey

Children with special needs participate in a story-telling session at North East Community Toy Library, on June 19, 2016.
Children with special needs participate in a story-telling session at North East Community Toy Library, on June 19, 2016.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Most parents of children with special needs want new laws to promote the rights of their children, and better pre-school education for them, a survey has found.

Released on Monday and commissioned by local philanthropic house the Lien Foundation, it polled 835 parents with special needs children aged nine and below.

Close to three-quarters (72 per cent) agreed that new laws are necessary.

Of parents with children in pre-schools, fewer than half felt their children had adequate support from the pre-schools - be it from teachers, the curriculum or facilities available.

The survey indicated the weak physical infrastructure and environment faced by parents of children with special needs. Just about half felt their key service needs were being met - in transportation (58 per cent), medical and dental (55 per cent) and childcare (54 per cent).

More than 40 per cent of respondents also wanted more financial support from the Government, and close to 60 per cent of middle-income families with a household income of $7,000 to $9,000 per month felt this way.

Meanwhile, around one in three parents polled said they had heard adults directing insensitive remarks at their children.

Four in 10 parents think their children spend too little time outside of school and in the community doing the things they like.

The Lien Foundation suggested extending the Compulsory Education Act to children with special needs. The Lien Foundation said the 2012-2016 Enabling Masterplan - which guides the development of policies and services for people with disabilities - had called for the Ministry of Education to make education for children with special needs compulsory by 2016. It said in a statement: "This would set a baseline of access to education for these children and ensure a commitment to their education needs. To date, there has yet to be any update on the recommendation."

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah said Singapore is an exception among the top education-ranked countries of Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Finland "because unlike them, we have yet to introduce laws to support inclusion in education".

He added: "In their quest for excellence, these top performers seek to meet the needs of all children. We can do likewise - starting with change from within - by adopting new mindsets towards inclusion to achieve new possibilities."