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Economic Justice

Campaigning for the post-educational needs of young people with severe learning disabilities

 Julie Jamieson, winner of the SMK Social & Economic Justice Award 2013  talks about how she plans to bring the Post 19 Campaign to the centre stage of the political and social agenda

 

In 2012 the Northern Ireland NEETS (young people not in education, employment, or training) Strategy was awarded an additional £41 million up to 2015.  Although throwing money at a problem may not always yield the best results, (as it’s the systems and processes behind the investment which are the crucial drivers), it is a step in the right direction for those young people.  What this investment demonstrates is an understanding of the issue and a commitment to “turning the curve”.

 

However, for young people with severe learning disabilities, life isn’t quite so rosy.  In April 2008 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) were told that of the 100 young people leaving special schools each year in Northern Ireland, 20% of those with additional complex/profound disabilities would have no choice but to go to a day centre, as there were too few opportunities and support systems to enable them to go on to further education.  Put bluntly the needs of these young people are once more being ignored, despite them coming under the NEETS category.   It was this anomaly that led to the establishment of the Post 19 Campaign in April 2010.

 

The Post 19 Campaign now numbers 150 parents/carers of young people with severe learning disabilities as well as 21 SLD (Severe Learning Difficulties) Special Schools from across Northern Ireland.  The Campaign questions the lack of post-educational placements for these young people when they leave school at 19.

 

Equality and disability access issues apply to every creed, class and gender in Northern Ireland.  This is not a green and orange issue.

 

The Campaign  realises that the Stormont Assembly is accessible in a way in which Government is not in the rest of the UK.  But whilst the campaign can access politicians, and has backed up discussions with its research report ‘The Impact of Transition on Family Life 2012’ the outcome is still sympathy and support not constructive action for change.  So how can we turn this around?

 

I was fortunate to win the SMK Campaigners Award for Social & Economic Justice in 2013 (sponsored by Barrow Cadbury Trust and Shelter).  As an award winner I received a package of training and mentoring to enable me to drive the campaign forward.  With the assistance of my mentor Dr Michael Wardlow, Equality Commissioner for NI, we moved the focus away from the problems and towards solutions.

 

In our discussions with Ministers and government departments the Campaign is recommending alternative post educational placements which we identified in our research report.  One of these suggestions was to bring education, not necessarily formal or accredited, into the day centre, where peripatetic learning support teams could be employed to oversee the transfer of Individual Learning Plans from the special school sector.  This would ensure that young people with severe learning and additional complex and/or profound disabilities are no longer written off at 19 years as incapable of learning.  Radical? Not really. Practical? Absolutely!

 

To our delight the Department of Employment and Learning has included this proposal in its current inquiry due to finish in March 2014.  So progress is underway, but how far this goes is anybody’s guess.  But if all else fails there’s always Plan B – legislation.

 

Julie Jamieson is the 2013 SMK Social & Economic Justice Award winner