Thursday, 17 June 2010

Carers Awareness Week in Northern Ireland

And parental conductive upbringing is there

There has been precious little institutional Conductive Education in Northern Ireland for years, just a lone conductor holding on doggedly in Dungannon, but there also is a redoubtable representative of family conductive upbringing in Belfast – Emma Mcdowell.


Emma is probably one of the earliest parents to take a child to Hungary from abroad to the old State Institute under Mária Hári. Then quite some years later (in 1986), when for a while Conductive Education was forced on to the public stage in the United Kingdom, Emma was one of the vanguard of RACE (Rapid Action for Conductive Education), the then action group struggling to force Conductive Education on the national political agenda. Later she served on the now defunct Civic Forum (the short-lived, sort of upper chamber for the Northern Ireland Assembly), at which she never missed an opportunity to push for Conductive Education.

And here is Emma, still at it, still speaking up for Conductive Education 38 years after she first met it, probably a record for something. The following comes from Fiona Rutherford's article on Northern Ireland Carers Week in this morning's Belfast Telegraph, reporting a just published booklet in which two east Belfast women tell their stories. This booklet has been published by Carers Northern Ireland in association with the Equality Commission.

One of these carers is Emma. Fiona Rutherford's report continues –

Emma McDowell cares for her 38-year-old son George, who has cerebral palsy. Early on, she gave up her PhD and took him to the Pető Institute in her native Hungary. 'We found that Conductive Education was incredibly successful for George, although it was very hard work for all of us, and meant the family spent long periods of time apart.'

The hardest sacrifice for Mrs McDowell was not being at her mother’s deathbed in Hungary. 'When I realised she was dying, I tried frantically to get back to be with her, but social services weren’t able to find any respite cover for George at short notice, and so I couldn’t be there. Back-up in an emergency would make a huge difference to carers’ lives at times of stress.

She said caring had cost her her career but that it had made her stronger. 'I am more assertive, and I engage in public policy debate — I sat on the Civic Forum, for instance, to represent carers’ interests. Yes, in some ways caring has restricted my life, but in other ways it has widened my horizons.'

There is a page on the website of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission with a link at its end to a free download of this booklet;

Please let us all know if you can work out how to open it!


Rutherford, F. (2010) Mothers share their stories of life as unpaid carers, Belfast Telegraph, 17 June

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