Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Children and Young People, West Belfast MLA Sue Ramsey, who is the chairperson of the Assembly Employment and Learning Committee, is challenging Minster Reg Empey to meet the training needs of our young people with special educational needs, disability and learning difficulties.
Speaking ahead of a Sinn Fein Stormont debate on the issue Ms Ramsey said:
"Disability affects many of our young people. Young people who face many hurdles and need and deserve our support. In 2005/06 53,000 children and young people attended schools who had special educational needs. This number has doubled in 10 years.
"Too many of our disabled young people leave school without the training they need. Some disabled young people the lack of training and even a daycare centre place meaning they spend the majority of their time at home, with little to do.
"Too many parents remain concerned that their children will not be able to access Further Education or training to allow them to develop their independence.
"Young people with learning difficulties or disabilities experience multi-layers of discrimination and disadvantage. Barriers that those without disability or special needs would struggle to overcome.
"We lack of full-time vocational training and employment options for young people leading to meaningful paid employment. Barnardo's identified major barriers, including:
- Lack of choice in-terms of post school options;
- Lack of accessible colleges;
- Fewer opportunities to gain recognised qualifications;
- Lack of co-ordination between agencies working with young people;
- A view that there was a policy of cost above need.
"Failure to provide access to the kind of training and education and employment placements that young disabled people need also links in with poverty. By 26 disabled people are nearly four times as likely to be unemployed or involuntarily out of work as non-disabled people. They have lower levels of educational qualifications and more likely to not have fulfilled the employment aspirations they had set for themselves ten years previously. Yet it is not poverty of aspiration that is the main barrier for disabled young people, but rather the need for additional support, information and opportunities.
"It is not enough to depend on the excellent work carried out by voluntary organisations that provide training and support for disabled young people. Mencap, Cedar and Barnardo's, to name a few, all provide training, employment and ongoing personal support. Most depend on short-term, usually European, funding where it is difficult to develop services because funding is always at risk. Yet these provide the additional support and resources that can make a real difference.
"The challenge for Reg Empey is to undertake a full review of all the provision available, training, employment, FE and voluntary sector, to assess its effectiveness. To determine what else is required and put in place a funded action plan that will provide our young disabled people with the kind of quality choices and support for training that will improve their lives." ENDS