Sólás provides three key supports to families caring for children with special needs; additional education support, an after-school care service, and a range of family supports to protect the mental health of those caring for their children.
A special needs diagnosis can have a life changing impact, not just on the young person involved, but on their entire family. In most cases a lack of affordable childcare options for children with special needs results in a parent or loved one having to step away from full-time employment. The stress that comes with this burden can often be too much to handle, with parents of children with special needs 40% more likely to experience mental health difficulties. Additionally, without tailored support and guidance, a child’s academic performance can suffer. Across Ireland, 24% of all children in mainstream primary education will have additional needs, but only 1 in 5 will actually receive extra support from the state. By not investing in children at this early-stage, Ireland runs the risk of exacerbating the problem further.
Growing up, Joan recognised the difficulties that families face when trying to provide the best for their loved ones. Having a sister with Downs Syndrome gave Joan a passion for ensuring that more services and supports are made available to families. This belief led Joan to quit her job with Queen’s University, and set up Sólás in 2010. Sólás provides three key supports to these families; additional education support to children with ‘mild’ needs, an after-school care service for those with more serious difficulties, and a range of parenting and family supports that aim to protect the mental health of those caring for their children. A key success factor for Sólás is their use of highly trained retired teachers, who volunteer their time, ensuring that the children involved are interacting with experienced professionals.
Headquartered in Belfast, Sólás is serving over 400 children and young people weekly through their education and after-school care programmes. In addition, hundreds of carers and parents are benefitting from their family support services. With Sólás programmes currently oversubscribed, Joan is keen to grow and scale their work even further. In the past 12 month alone, Sólás has expanded their operations into the Republic of Ireland, utilising more than 100 volunteers to deliver their tailored and focused supports. Confident that Sólás can lead the way, Joan is committed to ensuring a fairer Ireland for all those with special needs.
Proud to be a part of a growing movement of people who want a fairer world.