Thursday, 11 November 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accepting this Topical Issue matter this evening and the Minister of State for being here. This is a challenging area and I congratulate the Minister of State and her team on the work they have been doing since she took up office. I am quite impressed.
When children leave special schools, they often go into adult services. The transport arrangements to special schools are good. They have escorts and services and so forth, even though sometimes the special schools are too far away from the young person's home and he or she must travel long distances. When children become young adults, they may still be vulnerable and it may still not safe for them or they may not have the ability to travel on their own, but they must attend an adult disability service or training centre which quite often are also located a long distance from their home, and no dedicated transport service is provided for that. This can cause serious stress to parents. If both parents are working, they cannot bring their child, who is now a young adult, to the centre.
I have asked a number of parliamentary questions on this and the Minister of State has responded saying, "Some transport supports are provided by the HSE or funded agencies on a discretionary basis, and a variety of transport solutions are pursued in different CHO areas", including travel training, local transport, and some service providers provide transport, where capacity exists. It is very much an ad hoc, take-it-or-leave-it system. It is the luck of the draw in some instances. I have one particular case, and the Minister of State knows of it, which we have been working on since last September. It is only yesterday they finally got a service, thankfully. It took a lot of work and effort, and that should not be the case.
Will the Minister of State have a look at this whole area and see if we can put a service in place so that when these young people become adults, have to strike out on their own, and have to go to a service which is very often very far away from their home, they would have that transport service provided? Even better would be if she could ensure the training centres were closer to the homes of these young people. Many parts of the country, including my area in east Cork, do not have a training centre. Will the Minister of State carry out a national audit of these centres, if it has not already been done? There should be a training centre within 4, 5 or 6 miles of a young person's home or in the nearest large town where he or she can go and with which he or she is familiar.
When a young person turns 18 and becomes a young adult and goes to a training centre, his or her vulnerabilities still exist and he or she will still need the support to travel. That young person cannot navigate public transport safely and parents worry about this. To get back in the evening, maybe in the dark, is the other challenge. I know of some parents who have actually given up their jobs. I spoke to a parent today who took leave from her job, which has cost her a lot of money, to bring her child to a special school. I know this is a different area, but this is something they should not have to do. God knows they have enough pressure and worry about who will mind their young adult children when they get older.
We have made a significant amount of progress in this area, but there is still a lot to do. This particular piece could be fixed and needs attention. I know the Minister of State is doing her best in this regard and I want to support her in that work, as we all do. There should be a seamless transition from second level to adult level services in regard to transport. I look forward to what the Minister of State has to say.