Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Disability Services

5:55 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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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.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I like how he said he wishes to discuss this issue, and that is exactly how he laid it out this evening. The response I have is totally different from the answer needed to how the Deputy has presented this topic. He is right: we do not do enough transition planning for where young people transition from second level education, whether it be in a special class, special school or special unit, to adult day services. They are coming from a space where they are well supported, well minded and really well protected to a space where, although we have brought in annual funding since 2015 for young people to be able to access adult day services under the school-leaver programme, and this year we have €34 million left aside for the school-leaver programme, regrettably, transport is not considered a core part of the HSE response to the school-leaver programme under the Department of Health. That speaks exactly to the point about parents being stressed and worried about that transition planning piece. It is unfortunate that sometimes a young adult has to give up a day attending a training centre or a day service to ensure the cost of his or her transport is protected. Saying it is not a core health piece sometimes leaves me astounded. We spend in excess of €50 million annually providing transport for people to attend day services. Since 2015, however, we do not provide any funding to support people in regard to this issue under discussion. I totally understand why families are anxious.

The positive piece that has happened recently is there has been a Cabinet subcommittee established to shine a light on this exact topic. I am fortunate the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister, Deputy Foley, with the support of the Taoiseach, are prepared to shine that light on it, with the acknowledgement that we need to do better transition planning. We need to start planning in transition year as to what the needs and wants of individuals are. We also need to be ambitious for young people as opposed to just saying they need to go to a day service. We need to see what their needs and abilities are and support them to have that independent piece in the community. The most important piece is you need to give them that support to access the community as opposed to saying there is a train nearby or a local bus they can use to go to a training service, without ever perhaps teaching or supporting them to understand the basics of accessing transport - going in the morning and returning in the evening. We need to front-load the supports to build confidence into the young people. It is something I would like to ensure we get funding for going forward.

This year, I introduced a deferral programme to ensure it was not just a case that there was no choice for young people other than going to adult services. I gave a deferral to allow young people to have the choice to go into further education, maybe something to do with literacy and numeracy through the further education and training, FET, system or a social work scheme. It was to give young people choices. I have seen the wonderful work done in respect of apprenticeships. We need to show parents there are choices and options available. The most important piece in this conversation, however, is that we need to be able to fund that delivery and continuum of services, so that you do not fall off the cliff edge, as it were, the minute you leave the leaving certificate year or turn 18 years of age.

I am happy to work with the Deputy on this and have him part of other conversations that are taking place to ensure it happens and to bring confidence to parents that, as it were, you do not fall off that cliff edge.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her positive response and encourage her to keep working on this. Disability and intellectual disability are a continuum, as the Minister of State well knows. Some children and young people, as the Minister suggested, can be trained and taught how to use public transport and navigate the system and so on. There are others on the other end of the spectrum, however, who cannot and will never be able to do that and who will need to be guided and brought from the door of their home to the door of their training centre and back again. If that is in a remote rural area, it is very difficult.

What I want to see happening from next September on is that parents know who to contact. Quite often, if they contact the service provider, the school or the training centre, it seems to fall on those to provide the service. They are at a loss and say they do not have the resources or the know-how, that they cannot do and it is not their role anyway. We need to have a situation where, every September, when these young people transition from second level to the training centres and workshops, to go to work like any other young adult who goes to work or further training does, that it is seamless, clear and painless for their parents, in particular, and that they know who to contact to get support. The Minister of State could consider a one-stop-shop or a hotline that parents could ring up and explain their situation, that they are living in one place and their child has a training place in another location 30 miles away, where they could find out how to get their child from A to B safely, and explain that the child cannot navigate public transport safely even though he or she free travel on public transport, and that the parents would be very worried about putting him or her on a bus, especially if he or she had to change buses or services, as can happen in some cases.

I am glad the Minister of State is taking this seriously. I will support her, as would all of us here, in solving this problem. I am sure it is not rocket science to do so. There just needs to be a focus on it. It is really great to see young adults like these, who face the challenges they face, being able to leave their homes and go out into the world, to a training centre with their friends or to other education and training. In the past, young adults like these stayed at home and never got anywhere. We need to do more to support them in getting there and in reaching their full potential.

6:05 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I again thank the Deputy. Under the national disability inclusion strategy, issues facing people with disabilities such as transport issues must be addressed on a cross-Government basis. These issues do not, and should not, fit into the Department of Health alone. There should also be conversations with the Department of Transport to ensure that, when a national transport policy is being rolled out, inclusion is part of it. It should criss-cross right across the country to ensure that people can use it.

The Deputy also brought up the idea of a national audit. In 2022, I plan to do a national mapping exercise to see where we have day services, rehabilitative training services and residential and respite services so that we can see where the gaps are. This will enable us to ensure we can meet the needs of individuals.

We do not have a one-stop shop for issues relating to disability nor do we have a one-stop website in that regard. I would like to break down the barriers between community healthcare organisations. If one lives in Cork but near Waterford, one might not get funding because of X and Y. We need to break down those barriers because parents do not know how to navigate them, although they probably do by the time their children have reached 18 years because they have been battling for 18 years. We need a one-stop shop that is accessible and that allows for integration. Regardless of people's location, they should be assured that they can attend a training centre and can have access to transport. We should support people who want to progress and who can be assisted. We also need to support young people for whom day services are the best option. I acknowledge the work the providers do in trying to cut what is already very thin cloth even more thinly. They do this incredibly well but, since 2015, the funding has not been there to support them.