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MIC Partners with HSE to Host National Children’s Disability Conference

Prof. Gary O'Brien, Dr Anne O'Byrne & Prof. Emer Ring, MIC at Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People (PDS) Conference 2019

On Friday 6 December, Mary Immaculate College (MIC), in partnership with the HSE, hosted a national children’s disability conference, which shared best practice, ideas and innovation with parents and health professionals, whilst also recognising the on-going challenges in meeting the demand for services. The second national Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People (PDS) Conference brought together 450 HSE staff and parents onsite at MIC Limerick with an additional 600 people joining via Webinar.

The one-day conference focused on Family Centred Practice and the benefits of this partnership approach in supporting children with a disability and their families. In the past, services had a professional-centred model where professionals were seen as the experts who determined the needs of people with a disability. In recent years there has been a steady change in approach with Family Centred Practice changing how the HSE delivers services.

Person-centred and family-centred practice sees the professionals’ role as enabling and empowering people with disabilities to make their own decisions about how they want to live their lives. It recognises that the family is the greatest influence in a child’s life and knows them best. A team of health and social care professionals bring specific knowledge, skills and experience and, together, the family and the team can focus on what is uniquely important to the child and their family, and work to achieve the goals they have chosen.

Delegates at the conference heard presentations from parents, children’s disability teams and clinicians and also participated in practical workshops. Prof. Gary O’Brien, Vice-President of Governance and Strategy at MIC, provided the welcome address at the event on Friday. Speaking at the conference, he said, “I want to offer my warmest welcome and sincere gratitude to our valued colleagues in the HSE for facilitating this event and for playing such a key role in fostering the excellent partnership between all who share a stake in creating the possible services for children with disabilities, and their families. MIC is proud to contribute to this powerful example of collaboration and coordination.”

He continued by saying, “Our expert staff at MIC have knowledge to disseminate that is based on both their research and on their teaching. But we are learners as well, listening carefully to the experiences of fellow professionals as well as to families and young people whose own perspectives are indispensable in the formation of quality provision.”

Prof. Emer Ring, Dean of Education at MIC, who closed the conference on Friday, commented on MIC’s commitment to inclusivity. She said, “We have a long history at Mary Immaculate College of working towards the creation of a society where all children are valued, included and enabled to achieve their full potential. Our early childhood and teacher education programmes together with our Certificate in General Learning and Personal Development programme highlight our commitment to inclusion across the lifespan. In addition, the multi award-winning LINC programme, which we lead in a consortium comprising of Maynooth University and Early Childhood Ireland, underlines our concern to promote family-centred practice and ensures that our graduates understand the importance of working together to support children and young people with additional needs and their families.”

As an educator and parent of a young adult with a disability Dr Anne O’Byrne, lecturer in Educational Psychology, Inclusive and Special Education at MIC, is delighted to see such a strong relationship developing between health and education, as MIC works in partnership with the HSE. She said, “This conference highlights the importance of family-centred practice in order to support children and young people with disabilities to reach their potential. It is so necessary to recognise all of the good practice that is going on around the country in Disability Network Teams and I am very grateful to all of the wonderful professionals, in both health and education, who, despite many challenges, work tirelessly to support children and young people and their families.”

Changing to this way of supporting children with disabilities, just like any change, is challenging for professionals and for families. But there is now strong evidence that a family-centred approach helps to improve children’s wellbeing and the family’s quality of life, and paves the way for children to live the life of their choosing as adults.

Ann Bourke, HSE Disability Specialist said, “This conference is about partnership and learning. Family Centred Practice is increasingly being developed in our services and it demonstrates how parents and professionals work hand in hand to achieve the best possible outcome for children with a disability.  We are all aware of the challenges in our services. However, there is so much good work and innovation that it is crucial to share the expertise and experience of parents and professionals across the country.”

Embedding family centred practice into children’s disability network teams, supporting family resilience, hearing parents’ and grandparents’ perspectives on family centred practice, improving access to ASD assessment and intervention, and keeping families at the centre when helping children with challenging behaviour were just some of the topics discussed at the conference. 

To find out more about Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People (PDS) visit 

Fergus Finlay, former CEO of Barnardo's at Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People (PDS) Conference
Fergus Finlay, former CEO of Barnardo's & Board Member of the HSE, who MC'd the morning session
A group of MIC Professional Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology students at Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People (PDS) Conference 2019
MIC Professional Doctorate in Educational & Child Psychology students & lecturers
Staff from St Gabriel's Childen's Services at Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People (PDS) Conference 2019
Staff from St Gabriel's Childen's Services, Limerick at the PDS Conference 2019