Further Education Provision for Young People with Disabilities

Part of Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 am on 7th April 2008.

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Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:15 am, 7th April 2008

I welcome the second opportunity in recent months to debate this matter. It is worth debating for two reasons. First, there are the reasons that Members have outlined — namely that the group of young people that we are discussing is under stress and is particularly vulnerable. If the Assembly is to measure up to expectations, it must demonstrate the benefits of devolution to those individuals and their families in the way in which it addresses this matter.

However, this matter has returned to the House because of a structural flaw. It is not necessarily a comment on the Minister for Employment and Learning, but in the six months since the matter was first aired in the House, the Department has made no substantive report to the Committee on the progress of the review. Departments must provide stocktaking reports to their Committees on the progress that they make in implementing the will of the Assembly, as expressed in its resolutions. I hope that, in that respect, we can learn something from this matter.

Secondly, we must know precisely what stage the review is at; what issues it is addressing; and what the time frame is for its completion. I invite the Minister to confirm whether the following matters will be addressed during the review. In opening the debate, Mrs O’Neill referred to transition provision. Probably no need is more acute than that for transition provision, given that the young person is moving from a situation in which he or she has been surrounded for many years by the architecture of schooling, social services and health provision to a new situation with a different architecture. We need to hear more about whether that transition can be better managed so that the young person has all the support and provision that he or she needs in order to move successfully from childhood to adulthood.

Will the Minister comment on the issue that was referred to by his colleague Mr Basil McCrea, namely day care, or daily care and support? As Mr McCrea said, not only are young people in day care with a wide range of other age groups, but there will be greater demand on day-care services as our population ages. Consequently, some families are beginning to discover that their young people are receiving fewer hours of day care than they might have received previously. Given that we have an increasing older population, we must know whether there will be increased day-care provision to ensure that those young people receive the daily care and support that they require throughout their lives.

Thirdly, I want to talk about supported learning, which has also been mentioned. I acknowledge that the Minister was in correspondence recently on how Invest NI may or may not, for example, support Ulster Supported Employment Ltd (USEL). The project, based in the upper Shankill, has been highly successful and requires a great deal of support. The SDLP needs to know how such initiatives will obtain additional resources, from bodies that include Invest NI, to ensure their continued provision of dedicated training for people, whether young or old, with particular needs.

The fourth matter that I want to flag up is the Minister’s ongoing review of the Training for Success programme. The Minister said that any aspect of Training for Success that is not working must be fixed. That applies to the part of the programme that caters for students with particular needs, whether they are part time, over 25 years old or young people.

I invite the Minister to respond to those four points, because they will all influence how the SDLP votes on the motion and thereby whether the House supports it.