Why every family deserves child benefit


...that's how social insurance works: you pay your taxes and then get benefits when you need them.  Including child benefit when you have children.

...once they've taken child benefit from 'rich people' they'll want yours.

...giving 'rich' people money back through pension and property tax relief schemes is surely just the same as giving them child benefit. So why is the focus always on child benefit? Are properties and pensions more important than our children?  Surely all the tax avoidance schemes should be eliminated first?

...if you've a Celtic Tiger-sized mortgage, child benefit may be stopping your kids from going hungry.

...you may have a good income now, but what happens if you lose your job or get sick?

...some high wage-earners still don't give enough money to their stay-at-home partner.  Child benefit makes up the difference.

...contract workers with children who lose their jobs may be entitled to nothing from the State. Except child benefit.

...it can take weeks or even months for the first social welfare cheque to arrive when your circumstances change for the worse.  In the meantime what income does your family have? Child benefit.

...lone parents need it.  Their maintenance cheque - if they get one - may be unreliable.

...the self-employed need it.  Child benefit is the only dependable income in the household. When work is scarce, it may be the only income.

...most parents I know spend their child benefit on their children.

...child benefit is for children.

I wrote this because I am so sick of hearing the usual media line about rich families not needing their child benefit....with the implication that no-one should get it except the 'deserving' poor who should be thoroughly and regularly means-tested to make absolutely sure that their children are deprived enough to need it.  

This line is almost never challenged now. So I just wanted to give a different viewpoint.

Thanks to the recession, child benefit now provides the ultimate safety net for families.  It may not be the most efficient way to support families, but it is the only one available right now.  Yet the new Irish Government is likely to target child benefit once again.  And they may justify this by saying that the rich don't need it, and they may promise to "protect the most vulnerable", just like the Government they replaced.  Then they will cut it.  I hope I'm wrong.

Note: I am a member of PACUB, the Irish Group campaigning against further cuts to child benefit, and if you can, please 'like' our new page. And no, this is not a sponsored post!

On becoming a mother and not reading the small print

Yesterday afternoon all three of my kids were crying...and my youngest is nine!

CD was in meltdown and doing a lot more than crying.  I was sitting on him to try and calm him down (deep pressure helps many kids with autism and aspergers).

Smiley had severe constipation, but I couldn't reach her :(

Angel was told yesterday that she has to wear her braces for another 3 months.  She had to help Smiley.

Was this in the small print of the baby books I read? Somehow I missed it...

Meantime my thoughts and best wishes go out to @jencull, @vickijk and @ValOD1. Hope things get better really soon xxx

A ball but no gown

On the social pages you see them: fake tans, full make-up, smooth and shiny hair, designer dresses, picture perfect for the ball after days (weeks?) of effort. As a reader you look on with envy and wonder about their fabulous lives and how much fun it must be.  

Despite being a 'PR Girl' for 20 years, I never went to a ball.  I actually went to very few functions.  My role was usually to sit in the office and write and organise stuff - and I was quite happy with this arrangement!

But then a group of my Facebook friends started attending balls.  The pictures were posted up every couple of months and they seemed to be having an amazing time. These friends also have children with special needs, so going to a ball means escaping from the kids and their difficulties into a completely different world for one night.  So I added 'attending a ball' to my list of long term goals.

"Keep inviting me, and eventually I'll say 'yes'", I tell people.  Getting out can be difficult to organise and sometimes I just don't feel like making the effort.  My friends know this, and when the invitation to a Black and White Ball down the country arrived two weeks ago I thought nothing of it  .... and I was excited and very nervous when I found that I could actually go: respite was available for Smiley, the babysitter for the other two was free and happy to stay over, one friend offered to share a room, another to lend me some sparkly shoes, and I found a dress in the sales (more of that later) .

I swear I spent all Friday getting ready: packing bags, cleaning the house for the babysitter, getting the hair blow dried...I hit the road just before 5pm feeling like Thelma without Louise.  As soon as I saw the stunning ballgowns on my friends, I realised that my dress wasn't quite up to the mark (so no pics)!  It was black, yes, but not exactly glamorous.  No matter, I lashed on the eyeliner, downed a glass of wine and off I went...there was a drinks reception, three-course meal, entertainment, a band and a disco and 22 wonderful mums and dads to talk to - some I only knew from Facebook. 

But more than anything I needed to work off the stress of the past few weeks, and when I saw that other mums were ditching their heels and letting out their inner teenager on the dance floor, I gave in and spent almost the entire night 'dancing'.  My kids would have been mortified.  And you know what?  I don't care!  It was just what I needed....

Friendship the aspie way

My aspie boy is pretty good at making friends.  When he was smaller I would watch with pride as he gathered a crowd of followers in the playground and organised entertaining games to keep them amused.  But once we left the playground, we'd never see those children again.  As a pre-schooler he was friends with both boys and girls.  There were plenty of play dates then and when he started big school.  I did notice that he was rarely invited to birthday parties, but other Mums said that was just a 'boy' thing. 

His dislike of football reduced the potential friendship pool, but for several years he had half a dozen close friends.  And they say that aspies aren't sociable!

No, CD can make friends.  His problem is that he has trouble keeping them.  I have to remind him to play with his friends, and not just alongside them.  As his Mum I'll (half) listen if he wants to spend half an hour giving me the low-down on his latest game.  Most children won't.  Nor do they always want to play by his rules.

His cousins in Ireland and Wales help.  And they're all boys.  Here he is with big sis and his big cousins in Wales: one of the gang, just where he wants to be:

Last July, CD made a new friend at summer camp, and for a few months things looked really promising.  But the NF is not allowed computer games, so eventually they ran out of things to say... and the friendship ran out of steam.

There's a couple of friends from his old school that he sees in bursts....twice a week for a few weeks and then no contact at all for a couple of months!  So he was getting lonely and I was getting worried.  But then the meltdowns started again, and I've had no energy to think about more than getting through each day....his latest battle is over homework, so Mondays to Thursdays are a disaster at the moment. 

Fridays are much better, so I was not surprised to see a happy CD climbing out of the school bus at the end of last week.  He was really beaming..

"I have a very important piece of paper here!" he said, waving it.

I looked.  It had a name and two phone numbers on it.  CD was now jumping up and down in excitement.

"A friend of yours?"

"Yes, can I ring him please?"

"Of course!"

He's been attending the Asperger Outreach Unit now since September and finally he has a friend at his new school. Yaay! 

A play date was arranged for Sunday, and it seems that they like the same things:  computer games and trampolines and ringing each other up every 5 minutes to discuss computer games.

Here's hoping this is just the start....

Elections, trees and beauty contests

It's election time in Ireland.

On the main roads every pole and lamppost is weighed down with glossy pictures of glossy-looking party hopefuls.  Some are almost scraping the ground.

There's endless coverage on radio, TV and twitter.  The stodgy dull sniping discussions so far have given me political constipation.  I want to feel inspired, to vote for someone who has a vision of Ireland's future and a strategy to get there.   What I don't want is more of the same: Government by pressure group and the elites, tinkering at the edges of institutions and tax and welfare policy.

For any overseas readers there are currently three main political parties in Ireland: Fianna Fail, who were in power for the Celtic Tiger and the Celtic Bust; Fine Gael, who are very similar, but are not in power so often; and Labour, who are vaguely left-wing.

I have never voted for Fianna Fail, and after the death of Susie Long, I never will.  She was the mother of young children who waited too long for a colonoscopy, as she was a public patient.  And I'm sure she's not the only one.  She died at the height of the Celtic Tiger, when millions were being wasted on junkets, jets and jollies.  Yes, she might have died anyway, but she would have had a fighting chance if the Government had spent a little more time and effort in sorting out the health service and little less on electronic voting machines and other vanity projects.

The death of Brigid McCole is why I'm not sure about voting for Fine Gael.  They were in power when she died after acquiring Hepatitis C from infected blood products made by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Board.  

As for Labour, well can I trust them to look after my kids with special needs?  There was a Labour Minister for Education when the Government appealed a very important High Court decision to the Supreme Court. The High Court had ruled that people with disabilities had the right to an adequate and appropriate education.  

I'm not hopeful that anything will change...there's a famous election anecdote about a certain North Dublin politician who is said to have organised for trees to be planted in a local housing estate to help win a by-election for Fianna Fail, which were removed when his party lost. 

Something similar happened in 2002.  And it could be happening now.  

I was out walking when I saw some council workers digging up the pavement.  More pipe work I assumed.  Until I looked further up the road and saw, yes, they were planting trees!  When I asked them why they were planting trees instead of filling pot holes, the workers just said that someone must have asked for the trees.  Will they still be there after the election? Who knows...

Room 101

Warning: grumpy old woman rant alert.

Here are seven things that I think the world can do without.  And if I had a Room 101, they would be fired straight in!  Obviously I could have ranted for Ireland about special needs, but have stomped on that thought...and just sneaked one thing in...

I can see the charm in other weeds, but there's something creepy about raggeddy dandelions that drives me nuts.  And you can never, ever get rid of them.  Well not in my garden anyway.

Automated telephone answering services 
Cause of high blood pressure.  And when you ring your local bank branch, and it's not your local bank branch.  It's a call centre.  And the so-called 'lo-call' phone numbers that you're supposed to ring when you want to complain.   You have to pay to complain.  Please explain the logic of that.

Funny guys
All the film characters played by the likes of Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller.   Funny?  I just think they're idiotic.   Can real men, intelligent men, competent men not be funny as well?

Smiley's hoist 
Ok, maybe more the need for it.  It's a great hoist, but I'd rather watch paint dry.  Turbo-charged it ain't.

Wrinkle removal creams
And the ads for them.  Seriously, has anyone ever found one that works?

It's 2011.  People have been designing and making spouts on jugs, kettles and teapots for what, 4000 years?  Well maybe not kettles.  And they still drip?  I'm too busy to clean up after every drippy spout, so they're definitely for Room 101. 


There, I've resisted a Ryanair rant, and run out of complaints.  So perhaps I'm not so grumpy after all...

What or who would you put in Room 101?

Once again, this is NOT a sponsored post, okay!

Smiley and the iPad

A repost for #specialsaturday

I have dream.  

It's a recurrent dream.  The settings change, but the same thing always happens.  Smiley opens her mouth...and starts to speak.  And then I wake up and realise that she still hasn't learned to talk.  I haven't given up hope, but in the meantime she needs another way to communicate.  

Often I know what she wants, but not always.  I've used picture communication with her, but it's slow and awkward, so I was really interested when I heard that iPhone Apps such as this one were being developed to help children with speech delay.   But I knew the iPhone would be too fiddly for Smiley to manage.  

Then the iPad came out.  And before long, I started to read reports and see videos featuring children with special needs using them, playing with them, communicating using them.  Could Smiley do this too?

I took a chance, raided the piggy bank and Smiley is now the proud owner of an iPad (her Mammy also uses it whenever Smiley doesn't want it occasionally).

We did try it out first, thanks to Hammiesays and Jen.  Smiley showed an interest in simple games and was able to use a communications App developed for kids with severe disabilities. 

This is the biggest present that she has ever been given and I really want it to be a success.  So I'm slowly building the relationship between Smiley and her iPad: I'm trying out different Apps each day to see which ones she likes.  I want her to want it before I start using it as a communication tool as well.

Already it looks like the iPad is going to change our lives.   At 14, Smiley is too old for most 'toys' and she knows it too.  She would watch music videos all day if I let her, but it's hard to find an alternative.  Now I have one.  Even better, I used to spend hours shopping for new toys or setting up activities for her, only for her to be bored after a few minutes.  It seemed pointless to even try.  But Apps are often free, they download in seconds and I can delete them if she doesn't like them.  And we can watch and 'dance' to music videos on You tube.

So best of all, playing with the iPad is an activity we can do together :D  

Tonight I downloaded the Comms App.  That's the next challenge...

How to get an iPad

Both the UK and Ireland now have schemes whereby families can get an iPad by recycling old mobile phones.

It's very simple: Register on the website, collect old mobile phones and then swap them for an iPad. You will need a minimum of 165 phones. That may sound like a lot, but more than 1000 families in Ireland have succeeded and there are plenty of hints and tips on the website to help you. This scheme is open to families and schools and you don't have to have a child with special needs to take part.

The info bit:

The UK website is http://www.heartsandmindsphones.co.uk/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HeartsAndMindsUK

The Irish website is http://www.autismirelandphones.ie/

If you know of anyone who could benefit from this scheme, please tell them :)

Special Saturday:

#specialsaturday which was set up by @savvywendy to improve awareness and increase understanding of special needs. It is now a global campaign and this week the topic is iPads, how they help kids with special needs and how to get them. @savvywendy is an inspirational mum of four kids, three with autism and other special needs. She is currently recovering from two strokes. Join #specialsaturday by 'liking' the facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/SpecialSaturday; following on twitter - @Specialsat and retweeting hashtag - #specialsaturday; or reading and following the Special Saturday Blog : http://specialsaturday.org/