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Topical Issue Debate - Special Educational Needs

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 765 No. 3

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Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this topic and the Minister of State for being present. 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, the [275]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 ongoing 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.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I extend my appreciation to the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue. We need clarity on it as there is great uncertainty among parents and families of people with intellectual disabilities. The previous Deputy indicated that up to 700 children with these special requirements will leave school this year, and they are unsure if places for services will be made available and what funding will exist for those places. The service has already been cut to the bone over recent years. The 4% cut this year, when there is little room left for manoeuvre, will have a direct impact on services. There has been an indication that half the 4% cut will come from administration, but many service providers argue this will not be the case as administration costs cannot be further reduced. There will be a knock-on effect on services.

What assurance will the Minister of State give that the supports and services, especially occupational and speech therapy, language supports and physiotherapy, will remain available? Ms Deirdre Carroll of Inclusion Ireland, an umbrella group representing people with intellectual disabilities and their families, has said many parents and their children face an uncertain future, and it is very disappointing and frustrating for families to be left in limbo. She has argued the onus must be on the Health Service Executive and service providers to formulate a plan to deal with this and not leave parents waiting until the last minute. This sums up the concerns that exist.

I know there is an ongoing review of efficiencies in the shape of a value for money audit but until that report is completed, there is an issue with 700 children leaving school this year to an uncertain position with regard to supports. Will the Minister of State clarify the matter?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. I recognise the importance of life skills training and day services to people with disabilities who are leaving the education system, and every effort is being made within the available resources to provide services to all 2012 school leavers. Day services for adults with disabilities provide a network of support for more than 25,000 people [276]who have a wide spectrum of need, ranging from those with severe and profound disabilities who are likely to need long-term specialist service provision to people with lower support needs and greater potential for community participation and inclusions. The HSE, through its occupational guidance service, works with schools, service providers, service users and families to identify the needs of young people with disabilities who are due to complete their second level education. The aim is to address the needs of individuals in one or more of the following ways: health funded rehabilitative life skills training; health funded day services; FÁS funded vocational training; and approval to extend education placement for a specified time.

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 2012 budgets have been reduced by 3.7%, not the 4% the Deputy mentioned, and the moratorium on staff recruitment gives rise to challenges in service provision. In addition, the physical capacity to provide further services may not be present in all agencies. The voluntary sector and the HSE are committed to the best use of available resources in a creative and flexible manner, so as to be as responsive as possible to the needs of this cohort. The emerging Department of Health policy direction, the value for money and policy review,coupled with recommendations from HSE national working groups on key service areas, including the review of HSE funded adult day services, emphasise 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: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I thank the Minister of State for her response. Her final point answered what I was going to ask. This has been happening for a number of years now. 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.

I thank the Minister of State for her response and encourage her to bring some clarity for the 700 currently affected by this in the next seven days.

[277]Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher We could argue over the percentages but in terms of front line cuts, there definitely will be more than 4%. With court cases and increments built into pay already coming out of the budget, there will be major cuts of about 6.5% to front line services. The 3.7% flagged by the Minister of State is the overall figure but the figure for front line services is much greater and there will be a major reduction in those services.

The Minister of State was critical of the supports we gave to people with intellectual disabilities previously. Benchmarking this Government’s progress on something it was critical of shows there are no great aspirations to move forward this issue to ensure we do not have continual crises at the end of every year. Can the Minister of State give me an assurance that this time next year, we will not be standing here raising this issue again of school leavers not being made aware of the supports and services being made available to them, so there will be a rolling fund, year in, year out? The HSE holds back money from this fund until later in the year, creating grave uncertainty for vulnerable people.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I will tell both Deputies what I have told the service providers who have been in to see me on this issue. Both the forum and the HSE are working hard to ensure as many people as possible will have a place. There is a multiplicity of places available and different people need a different response.

I do not agree that certain organisations are at the pin of their collar as a result of cuts. There are questions to be asked about administration. The budget for disability is enormous: €1.5 billion in the Department of Health and unknown amounts in the Departments of Social Protection and Education and Skills, as well as FÁS. It is about pulling together all of that. This afternoon I was in discussions with an official to talk about putting in place a framework similar to that in mental health to pull all of that under one umbrella to ensure the crises we have seen, be it in respite, school leaving or continuing care, do not recur. We must put together an implementation plan to ensure the considerable resources that are being spent are spent wisely.

I give credit to the previous Government — I have no difficulty with that — but in some cases the process does not deliver good services. We must ensure those with disabilities make choices themselves. There is a small cohort of people who will not be able to make those choices but the majority will, and we must allow that to happen. Equally, however, we must look at the administration. When people talk about front line services being cut, why is that? Some organisations have multiples of CEOs. They then divide up into other organisations. There is no difference in administration in disability services between organisations. Why must every area have its own backroom staff and administration? This must be about the person with the disability and that is what we are working hard to deliver. That is why the HSE, the forum and other service providers want to see this resolved so we are not constantly crisis driven. We have done that in the area of mental health and we must start doing it in the area of disability.

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