I was at a meeting last night. It wasn't a political meeting. It wasn't a meeting full of 'bleeding hearts' or woolly left do-gooders.
It was a meeting of a small group of parents, all of whom have children with complex special needs. And I left it feeling very tired.
The first bombshell was a rumour that the Government is considering means testing Domiciliary Care Allowance, the payment that carers get for children with special needs. It's a universal payment, a concept that seems to be out of fashion right now. But they provide the ultimate safety net and help in a small way to pay for all the extra costs of rearing a child with special needs. So important right now, when all other income is under threat for so many families.
We heard about the effects of staff shortages. Limited nurse cover for children with complex medical needs and even more limited replacements due to the ban on recruitment in the public sector. Is one nurse for every 16 children really an acceptable ratio?
Transport for the children is apparently being outsourced to save money. So during the snow the school buses did not run, but the private ones did - otherwise the drivers did not get paid. Not an issue for me, but a worrying change of priorities perhaps.
A haphazard approach to respite with some families getting lots - especially those that shout the loudest - some getting a little, and some getting none at all.
An extra child in some classes means that there is little one-to-one time for each child. And all the group activities have to run to a tight schedule. So if one child has an accident or a meltdown, the timetable has to be abandoned, and the children may have to sit and wait until the crisis has passed.
Each child used to be taken out of the classroom for individual speech and language sessions, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Now these therapists are mostly available for consultation only: the actual work is done by the teachers and SNAs .... on top of everything else.
Swimming used to be every week, and the school has its own pool. But the older children only get it once a fortnight now - not enough time and not enough staff.
Despite this the school is still doing a fantastic job. I do not know of anywhere else that would give Smiley so many opportunities to fulfil her potential and enjoy her life. I do worry about the younger children who may miss out on all the intensive help that my daughter enjoyed.
The cutbacks are not desperately serious. Not yet. They just make me feel sad. I know that Smiley still smiles a lot in school, as I get to see the photographs. And she still gets excited when I tell her:
"You're going to school now, on the bus!"
Long may that continue.
And just one more thing .... as I was writing this, something heavy fell through the letter box. It was galling to find that the envelope contained two glossy reports produced by the organisation that now runs Smiley's school. That did make me angry...perhaps they were produced cheaply, but are they really needed at a time of severe cutbacks?