Worried parents from across County Fermanagh are anxious about the future of services for children with disabilities after it was announced that the Brighter Future project will cease to operate in the area.

The Brighter Futures Project supports children 0-12 years with a disability and their families in Fermanagh and it is understood that programming for the service will come to an end later this month.

Parents referred to the service facilitated by the charity Positive Futures as "a lifeline". 

Enniskillen's mum Donna Murphy’s four-year-old daughter, Erin Murphy-Jones is nonverbal and has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her mother fears there will be nothing for children with ASD available in the area when the Brighter Futures project closes.

Miss Murphy described how her daughter who used the service once a fortnight, benefitted hugely from the support in place.

She said: “We need someone to keep the services we have, I want to keep Brighter Futures, we need the service for our children.

“We are fighting for the service for our children, we need the support somewhere.”

Querying as to why funding came to an end, she believes that the Government may need to fill the gap for children with disabilities in Fermanagh.

“I think we are going to have to call on Stormont or the Department of Health [to find funding]”, she said.

Speaking about the impact on her family, Miss Murphy said: “For my daughter, I am devastated, it was two and a half hours a fortnight that she got and it was everything to her.

"There was such a wee excitement in her face going to Brighter Futures, it got her ready for nursery because she was around other kids and adults." She said she will also miss the support given to her as a parent by the project: “For us as parents, they always checked in on us, there were monthly meetings, even just for a cup of tea.”

The fight continues and over 30 parents are now determined to get more support for their children and have contacted various bodies including the Western Trust and local MLAs.

Stacey McManus has also joined with calls to save Brighter Futures as someone whose child had previously used the service.

Speaking on behalf of the group of more than 20 parents, Mrs McManus said: “The Brighter Futures project was our lifeline for support and guidance in our forever journey of fighting for the rights of our children.

“Our children can’t experience social activities like a child without ASD, therefore their life experiences are yet again limited.

"The team at Brighter Futures created social opportunities to help build resistance, life skills whilst giving us as parents respite.”

Praising the service offering, she said: “ Nothing was impossible because they always looked for the possible in everything. During COVID, when kids couldn’t get to see Santa, the team created a elf experience.

“This year, they fundraised to create a Santa Sunday where the kids could be themselves and no one judged or stared. As parents, we could sit back and relax, knowing this is a safe space for our whole family together.”

Mrs. McManus said: There are limited activities available for children with ASD in County Fermanagh.

“We have limited activities solely for ASD children and these are mostly paid for privately and places are extremely limited because there are so many kids affected by Autism”, she said.

Calling for funding for the service to be found, Mrs McManus stated: “The Western Trust need to find a way to support our children and I think it’s through this already established and experienced service it can be done.”

A spokesperson for Positive Futures who operate the Brighter Future’s service said that: “The charity has explored every possible financial avenue to continue the service, without success.”

The service was funded for five years by the National Lottery Community Fund and received its first referrals in 2017.

The spokesperson stated: “Positive Futures was able to keep it going until 2024 thanks to making the original funding go further, contributions from its own charity fundraising, and some support from the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

Chief Executive for Positive Futures, Agnes Lunney, stated “if there was any way of continuing the project, we would have jumped at the chance.”

Positive Futures Chief Executive Agnes Lunny said: “We are deeply saddened that the funds are not available to continue the Brighter Futures Project. Families have told us that this service has been a lifeline for them and their children.

“An independent evaluation of the service, completed by Professor Roy McConkey, Ulster University, not only evidenced the very positive impact of this service but also recommended that this model should be replicated across Northern Ireland.

“Unfortunately, no further funding is available from any statutory source, including the Western Trust and the Department of Health, at a time when social care budgets are under severe pressure. Although the cost of providing this service is relatively low – £150,000 – local fundraising is not enough.

“If there was any way of continuing the project, we would have jumped at the chance.”