Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome this motion on a proposal for a national autism empowerment strategy, which I am happy to support. My constituency of Dublin North-West has a high number of children and young people with autism but a severe lack of services, resources and school places. The situation is acute at both primary and secondary level. The Sinn Féin team in Dublin North-West and I are in contact with, and have been assisting, many parents from across the constituency with the problems they face in getting proper access to school places and services for their children.
From my meetings and conversations with parents, I am very aware of the everyday challenges they face. It is clear there is a lack of leadership coming from the Department in determining the implementation, use and identification of resources for children with autism and special needs. We also need clarification on certain processes, a clarification that is lacking at the moment.
In response to a question from my colleague, Deputy Chris Andrews, last October asking the Minister to outline the criteria used by the Department of Education in making a determination to use section 37A of the Education Act, the Minister did not clarify the actual mechanisms for such a determination. According to the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Madigan, the National Council for Special Education has primary responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on education provision for children nationwide. However, on-the-ground experience suggests there appears to be no real strategy or planning based on any tangible data from the NCSE of where autism spectrum disorder units are needed. Contrary to the Minister's assertions to my colleague, Deputy Andrews, there is no real engagement between the NCSE, parents and schools. This is probably why there are such major gaps in the provision of services across Dublin North-West. In fact, Ballymun is one of the worst-served communities when it comes to autism and special needs and has no ASD units in the primary schools. The Minister and the Department need to be proactive and should make determinations in respect of the provision of ASD units locally because it appears that the current system is not working.
Parents I have spoken to have asked that section 37A of the Education Act be invoked to provide the necessary facilitates in Dublin North-West that are clearly lacking. It with within the power of the Minister to do so. The situation in Dublin North-West warrants such an intervention.