Swann seeks action on post-19 special needs

MORE provision needs to be put in place to cater for special needs teenagers once they reach the age of 19, UUP MLA Robin Swann says.

The Assembly has called on the Minister for Employment and Learning to provide the opportunities and support necessary to ensure that young people leaving special-needs schools at 16 and over 19 years of age “can further their education and aspire, where appropriate, to meaningful employment”.

He added: “Having worked with that section of our community for a number of years now, I am fully conversant with the problems that arise.

“We seem to be concentrating on one section of those people with learning disabilities. However, there are two sections. One section can undertake a certain kind of employment, but there is another group of people who cannot do so,” said Mr Swann.

“In that second section, there are people who remain in a special school until they are 19 years of age; for example, those who are afflicted with autism. When they reach 19 years of age, they are not able to move on to further education or employment and are left in their parents’ care.

“Their only outlet is to go to a day centre, where they are grouped with older people who, very often, are suffering from some kind of mental disability. In that context, we must examine both sides of the equation,” he said.

Mr Swann added: “I support everything that has been said about employment for people who are 19 years old, or even younger. That is something which has been concentrated on in Castle Tower Special School, in Ballymena, for example.

“It monitors those young people as they grow up through their teenage years. Working in close co-operation with what is now the Northern Regional College, we have had the pleasure of seeing so many of those young people enter some form of employment, which has enhanced their quality of life.

“On that note, we should pay tribute not only to the teachers in special schools - of whom I cannot speak highly enough - but to those in the further education system who take on board the problems of those young people, and to the lecturers who have given themselves the special task of endeavouring to help those young people towards some form of normality in life.

“We should pay tribute to those people who have done so much to help young people with special needs,” said Assemblyman Swann.