Family risks losing home over failure to find school spaces for sons with autism

Taoiseach highlights investment in special needs amid FF accusations of ‘inertia’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin highlighted the problems families with autistic children in particular face in trying to get school places. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin highlighted the problems families with autistic children in particular face in trying to get school places. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

The failure to provide school places for children with special needs has put one family at risk of losing their home, TDs have been told.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin highlighted the problems families with autistic children in particular face in trying to get school places.

Mr Martin, a former education minister said that “every year ‘ordinary’ kids go back to school in September. Why is there always a problem for children with special needs to get school places?”

Raising the issue in the Dáil with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar he accused the Government and the Department of Education in particular of a “terrible inertia” and claimed the children were being denied their constitutional rights.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged the difficulties faced by families but he said provision for special needs had been tripled since 2011 with 10,000 children’s places now available.

The Taoiseach said there were now as many special needs assistants as gardaí and a total of 13,000 special needs teachers.

Threat of repossession

Mr Martin cited the case of Gillian Bolger and Darren Milne whose situation was raised on RTÉ’s Prime Time because of the ongoing pressures in trying to care for their autistic sons Ryan and Kyle.

The children’s father who is a bus driver had to reduce his working hours to two days as their children had health needs and had to come out of school. “Because they came out of school they could not get home tuition” and had to fight for 12 months to get that tuition.

The further pressure on the family budget, resulting in them going into mortgage arrears and now they faced having their home re-possessed.

The Fianna Fáil leader said he had met numerous families facing the same challenge to get school places.

The Taoiseach said the particular case was under consideration by the Minister for Education as he acknowledged the difficulties parents faced.

Progress

Mr Varadkar pointed out the options for children with special needs – a place in a special class in an ordinary school, a place in a special school, or home tuition.

Mr Varadkar, pointing out that provision for special needs have tripled in the past eight years with 10,000 children’s places now available.

“Yes there are plenty of individual cases, and plenty of families with children with special needs, not getting care,” the Taoiseach acknowledged.

But he insisted that significant progress had been made in addressing the issue. He said almost €2billion was now being spent each year on special needs education, €1 in every €5 spent on education. And it was close to what was being spent on third level, the Taoiseach concluded.