Le do chead, a Cheann Comhairle, freagróidh mé ceisteanna 3, 9 agus 13 le chéile ós rud é go mbaineann siad leis an cheist chéanna.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall take questions 3, 9 and 13 together, as they relate to the same issue.
Tá sé tábhachtach go mbíonn teacht ag aosaigh óga mhíchumasacha ar thacaíocht agus ar sheirbhísí fóirsteanacha nuair a fhágann siad oideachas lánaimseartha. Thiocfadh dó gur teacht é seo ar oideachas, oiliúint agus fostaíocht bhreise a bheadh i gceist, chomh maith le teacht ar ionaid lae aosach nó scéimeanna gníomhaíochta lae eile a reachtálaíonn iontaobhais sláinte agus seirbhísí sóisialta.
Éilíonn ‘Tosaíochtaí le haghaidh Gníomhaíochta 2000-03’ ar bhoird agus ar iontaobhais leanstan ar aghaidh ag forbairt seirbhísí chúram lae agus seirbhísí faoisimh do dhaoine le míchumas foghlama. Ar 3 Meán Fómhair bhuail mé leis an Aire Oideachais agus leis an Aire Fostaíochta agus Foghlama le plé a dhéanamh ar cad é mar is féidir lenár Ranna agus lena ngníomhaireachtaí oibriú le chéile le freastal níos fearr a dhéanamh ar riachtanais na ndaoine óga seo. Iarradh ar fheidhmeannaigh tuairisc a thabhairt dúinn i mí na Samhna le moltaí.
It is important that disabled young adults have access to the appropriate range of services and support when they leave full-time education. That may be access to further education, training or employment, as well as access to adult day centres or other day activity schemes run by health and social services trusts. Priorities for action require boards and trusts to continue to develop the range of day-care and respite services for people with learning disabilities.
On 3 September, I met the Minister of Education and the Minister for Employment and Learning to discuss how our respective Departments and their agencies can work together to better meet the needs of those young people. Officials have been asked to report to us with proposals in November. Information on the numbers of young people who left special schools this summer, and the type of day care provided by health and social services trusts, has been placed in the Library.
As regards the development of day-care provision in the Dungannon area, I understand that the Southern Health and Social Services Board gave Armagh and Dungannon Health and Social Services Trust £68,000 in 1999-2000 for that purpose. A further £75,000 was allocated in 2002-03. The trust advises that the money was used to develop services in each of the four centres in the Dungannon area, especially the Aughnacloy day centre and the Oakridge Social Education Centre. The trust has reported that it is able to meet the day-care needs of special school leavers in that area.
I have bid for additional resources in the next spending round. Additional funding is needed for day care and, indeed, for a whole range of other health and social services. However, I was able to allocate a further, recurrent £300,000 to boards in June for wheelchair and day-care provision.
Given the pressures across the spectrum of health and social services, it is inevitable that difficult decisions must be taken about the allocation of funding. However, it is health and social services’ responsibility to provide day care for those young people who are unable, because of their disability, to access further education, training or employment. Many young people do not want a day-care place and aspire to do the same things as their non-disabled peers.
I thank the Minister for her response to my question, although I regret that she could not supply the statistics for which I asked.
No matter what the Minister might say about young people who may or may not want a place in day care, is it not a fact that there is a huge demand — indeed, requirement — for day-care places, both from young people with learning disabilities and from their parents? It is not a crisis that is thrust upon the Minister at the last minute, as people tend to reach the age of 19 gradually over a period of years. Why can priority not be given to that important area when other services, such as acute hospitals, seem to get a much easier acceptance from the Department?
In relation to the Member’s regret about the provision of information, I have placed that information in the Library. Members must accept that I am restricted by time when answering questions, and that asking specific questions with more than one part, which requires detailed information, makes that rather difficult.
Six people are currently not receiving day care. Of those, one is due to receive day care shortly, initially part-time, but that will be increased to full-time care as soon as possible; one was referred to the trust only on 4 September and has yet to have a needs assessment; and another person’s parents were adamant that they did not want any day-care arrangements.
As I have said, I accept that additional funding is needed, and I have given additional funding to boards this year. Like all other Ministers, I must consistently bid for funding, and I shall continue to do so. I have given much more in that area than has been given for quite some time, although I accept that much more needs to be done.
I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that a cross-departmental approach will be taken. Will her Department take the lead in examining the issue of young people with disabilities who have left full-time education or specialist schools? Will she examine the quality of the accommodation in day-care centres, the facilities and equipment, the number of support staff available, and training provision for staff and parents?
The Minister of Education took the lead in organising our meeting with the Minister for Employment and Learning. I am happy to report that the discussion was positive. It was not a case of pass the parcel. We discussed how each Minister could contribute to the future of people who leave special schools.
My Department’s remit covers the provision of services for those who are unable to access further education, training or employment because of disability. I have included the expansion of day-care services as a service development priority this year, and some of the additional funding allocated to boards for the development of community services is available for that purpose. However, it is important that we examine how our respective Departments and agencies can work together to better meet the needs of those young people.
Does the Minister agree that no other society forces its young people out of full-time education at the age of 19? Although many of those young people have the bodies of 19-year-olds, they can have mental ages of seven or eight. Where else are children forced out of full-time education at that age? Why are those young people discriminated against by not being allowed to continue in full-time education? Many adult centres are totally inappropriate for children of that age. They fossilize rather than further themselves, while other children are permitted to develop. Can the Minister find a way to give those children the same access to education, learning and employment that other children have?
I cannot say who does or does not have the right to education, because that is not within my area of responsibility. However, the Ministers and officials at the meeting made it clear that we want to examine overall needs and centre our work on the needs of individuals to ensure that they do not fall between two stools — or in this case three, given that three different Departments are involved.
I also accept that, although facility-based day care may meet the needs of some people, provision must offer choice. Boards, therefore, prefer to develop a range of day care with several providers, including those from the voluntary sector, to develop innovative, locally based schemes, which have been particularly beneficial in some areas. That is a more inclusive response to the day-care needs of today’s young people.