Children to have guide dogs for the first time
Blind and partially-sighted children under the age of 16 will be able to “own” guide dogs for the first time from the start of 2010, after the charity that trains the dogs decided to scrap its lower age limit.
The move by Guide Dogs follows a “very successful” three-year trial involving four young people between the ages of 13 and 15, followed by a further trial with a 13-year-old.
Two of the five are now at university, two at college, and the other has just started at a new school, all assisted by their guide dogs.
The charity said the five young people showed increased confidence and mobility and had also performed better at school.
Guide Dogs said it would be “extremely rare” for them to provide a dog to anyone under 12, and for legal reasons the animals would actually be owned by a parent or guardian until the child reached 16.
The first children are likely to undergo the five-to-seven week initial training with their dogs during the 2010 summer holidays.
The charity announced the move as it marked Guide Dog Week by releasing research that showed an estimated 18,000 blind and partially-sighted children under 17 in the UK are missing out on crucial mobility, independence and life skills.
The research – which surveyed about 100 young people, as well as hundreds of parents, teachers and mobility workers – found that an estimated 6,000 children are not receiving any mobility training, while about 9,000 are receiving no support in learning daily living skills.
A third of the children have been bullied over their sight loss at school and two-fifths make most of their friends online because they lack the confidence and social skills to make friends with classmates.
The report calls for: better support for parents; every blind or partially-sighted young person to have a right to mobility, independent living and social skills training as soon as they are diagnosed; a right to accessible reading materials; a wider range of social activities; and awareness-raising for key service-providers.
Bridget Warr, Guide Dogs chief executive, said the research results were “shocking”.
She said: “It’s a failure by society and the state at both national and local level.
“Children are being conditioned to expect to under-achieve for the rest of their lives.”
She said that, even when mobility and independent living skills are taught, it is “haphazard and far too often delivered years too late”.
6 October 2009