Connaughton raises dilemma for parents of school leavers with intellectual disabilities

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The current dilemma facing parents of children with intellectual disabilities was raised by Deputy Paul Connaughton in the Dáil on Tuesday evening last.

Deputy Connaughton raised the issue in a debate of Topical Issues on Tuesday evening. “Parents of children with intellectual disabilities who are about to leave school are in a dilemma as they do not know what services, if any, their children can avail of when school finishes next month. The difficulty is believed to affect more than 700 children. Voluntary service providers are pointing out that the reduced funding has resulted in the paring back of services, and there is no capacity to care for further people as there is pressure to find sufficient resources to care for people already within the system.

“Many of these children require on-going speech and language support, physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Parents fear their children will regress if they do not receive the necessary support. Each year, the Department of Health offers funding to provide emergency placements and services for school leavers, but according to recent reports in the media, for the first time there will be no provision of such funding this year. Voluntary services, as we know with all other Departments, have been facing cuts over recent years and are struggling to maintain existing provisions. Support groups have indicated cuts are also exacerbated by the recruitment moratorium and the reduction in front-line services.

“Fears are being expressed by parents of people with intellectual disabilities that the current issues will result in a reduced quality of life for those involved. A number of parents in Galway have been told by service providers that there are no places for their children, and transport and respite services are also being reduced. The HSE has stated a commitment to using all available resources in a creative and flexible manner to respond to the needs of these service leavers. I was contacted by a parent in Ballinasloe yesterday whose 18 year-old son at this point does not know what services will be available to him. He is a young man with a great level of needs, and I ask the Minister of State in her reply to state what, if anything, can be done in that case.

Responding, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch T.D. said that every effort is being made within the available resources to provide services to all 2012 school leavers. “The provision of work related training is the responsibility of FÁS and the Department of Education and Skills, whereas life skills training and general day services are provided by the HSE. Although the HSE makes every effort to provide services to people over 18 on leaving school, this has always been dependent on the availability and location of appropriate places, coupled with the needs of the individual school leaver. The demand for services for school leavers continues to grow. The HSE expects that approximately 700 school leavers will require services in 2012. Disability services will be required to cater, from within the existing budgets, for demographic pressures such as new services for school leavers and emergency residential placements.

The Minister noted that budgets have been reduced by 3.7% and the moratorium on staff recruitment creates further challenges. She also said that Department of Health policy emphasises the need for a new model of service provision that, if agreed by the Government, will further the independence of people with disabilities in a manner which is efficient and cost-effective. “New Directions, the review of HSE funded adult day services, was published on 29 February 2012 with a detailed implementation plan. A working group will be established this month under the auspices of the national consultative forum to ensure the implementation plan is progressed through a collaborative approach. I agree with the Deputy’s comment that there should be much earlier intervention rather than having parents and service users worrying up to the last possible moment every year. This cannot continue but the question is why it was not tackled before now.”

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton concluded saying, “We are talking about some of the most disadvantaged in our society but we have treated them like this for the past number of years. That is simply unacceptable and I welcome the review. The plan is that this would not happen again and that is welcome. I urge the Minister of State, however, to do whatever she can for the 700 people affected by this now. Some comfort must be given to the parents of those people. In some of the cases, such as those in the Brothers of Charity or Ability West, due to their limited resources, they are able to deal only with those with lesser issues. The problem is those who need this help and support the most are sometimes the ones who are most disenfranchised.”