As the end of the year approaches we have learned that once again our son is going to be losing the EA who has worked with him all year. This is becoming a trend but it also highlights a problem with the way EAs are allocated in this province.
There are without question a system in place for a very few special needs children to retain a specific EA over an extended number of years, however it is generally based on the fact that the child has specific medical needs for which that individual EA has recieved specific training. In the case of autistic children their is only one option and that is if the child maintains the worker who worked with them through their preschool autism training into school and beyond and even then is only in extreme cases.
I do not know if this is caused by an overzealous union fighting to protect their staff and losing sight of the children they are supposed to be caring for, or if it is simply a lack of understanding of some of the base points of autism. Some conversations I have been party to, and have seen progressing seem to imply both are applying.
There are a few things that need to be looked at closely.
1/ If a child’s autism is severe enough to require a full time EA, the EA assigned must not only be compatible with the child but should remain consistent over the vast majority of the child’s school career.
2/ If the EA and the child are not compatible (ie. do not bond) within a reasonable amount of time, then a search needs to be mounted for an EA who is compatible with the child and who the child will bond well with and therefore work well for.
3/ some schools operate on a principle of using a split EA team (two or more EA’s splitting large chunks of the day) so that the children dont bond closely with the EA, not realizing this lack of a bond reduces the child’s willingness to work for either EA and increasing behaviours.
We need to realize that EAs and autistic children work best when a bond forms between them, it usually means the child is going to be more willing to work for that individual EA and more responsibe to them. It also means that, that specific EA will also be in tune to the child more closely and know intuitively when they are having an off day, what might set them off in a given situation, see signs of impending behaviours, understand what the child needs to have happen to reduce/remove those behaviours. More importantly many of the EA/child teams that bond well often can deal with these issues with minimal to no disruption in a class.
Here in NB we are again at a point where the EAs and Department of Education have been without a contract since February to my understanding. It provides us the optimum time to look at this issue closely and because of this I am going to suggest a give and take situation that will provide the best solution for both the EAs and the children they care for.
- If a child requires a full time EA then a compatible full time EA needs to be found and assigned to the child for the long term (potentially to the end of high school) or until the child and the EA become no longer compatible.
- EAs need to stop being treated as casual staff and instead be treated as permanent full time employees with a prorated type contract similar to that given to teachers. They are doing a very vital job and it needs to be recognized as such.
- EAs who are assigned to an individual child are not included in the bumping process and do not count against a schools allotment, they gain seniority as normal however do not get bumped while they are with a full time child.
- EA seniority will accumulate from all districts within the province and not just within each individual district
My challenge to both the Minister of Education Department and the Union for the EAs is to put in place a system that takes into account the needs of the children placed in their care. I challenge the Minister of Education and CUPE local 2745 to agree to put the 4 changes in place on an interim basis starting immediately until the next contract is signed and to include this into the next contract. I challenge you to do this in the best interests of the children