Government Fails to Make the Grade for Young People with Learning Difficulties

13 September 2012 News

Inconsistencies, weaknesses and gaps characterise current system

YOUNG people with learning disabilities face a flawed system when moving from children services to adult services, a report from the Children’s Commissioner, Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, has found.

The ‘Review of Transitions to Adult Services for Young People with Learning Difficulties’ found inconsistencies, weaknesses and gaps in existing arrangements for children with learning disabilities moving from child to adult services.

The report by researchers at Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB) looked at the transition arrangements for young people with learning disabilities across education, health and social care, as well as other areas such as employment.

Mrs Lewsley- Mooney, who commissioned the report, said: “I am regularly contacted by concerned parents telling me about the difficulties faced by their children moving from child to adult services.

“The transition to adulthood should be a time of excitement and opportunity, however for young people with learning disabilities and their families it is often a time of stress and anxiety about the possible loss of support and services which are currently in place, and uncertainty about the future.”

The report, which examined current law, policy and services relating to transitions highlighted ongoing difficulties with current arrangements and demonstrated there can be a stark contrast between international child rights obligations placed upon Government and the reality experienced by young people and their families in Northern Ireland.

Young people move to adult services at different ages across education, health and social care. The age they leave school and range of options they have can vary depending on where they live.

“I acknowledge that attempts have been made to alleviate some of the difficulties faced by young people and their families at times of transition, said the Commissioner.

“However we must recognise that barriers continue to persist for young people and their families. I call on the Northern Ireland Executive to make sure that the service planning process is fully integrated across education, health and social care, that there is effective cooperation between agencies and that the views of young people themselves are properly taken account of.”

The Commissioner concluded: “As young people prepare to leave the structure and support of school based arrangements it is essential that the transition is well planned, properly resourced and has the rights and best interests of each young person at its heart.”

“When young people with learning disabilities are adjusting to new environments like further education, training, day care or independent living it is vital they get the support they need to make sure the move is successful.”


 From the report authors:

Professor Laura Lundy (QUB) who completed the report with Dr Bronagh Byrne (QUB)   and Dr Paschal McKeown (Mencap) said:

“The report indicates that there is a pressing need for greater communication and co-operation between public services in education, health and social care as well as accessible information and support for parents and young people about the services available to them on transition.”

She continued, “Concerns relating to young people with learning disabilities attending Further Education (FE) courses, centred on the lack of a choice of courses which meet the young person’s own interests and aspirations as well as opportunities for genuine progression”.

“In the context of employment, again there is variation across NI in terms of supported employment opportunities, the availability of suitable work experience placements, and the impact of part-time working on social security benefits” concluded Professor Lundy.

Barbara Green, Principal of Beechlawn School, Hillsborough said:

“Whilst many of our pupils benefit from services provided by Regional Colleges and organisations such as Stepping Stones and Mencap, other more vulnerable pupils, especially those on the autistic spectrum need more choices.”

“ Further to this, they are unable to stay at this school past the age of 16 and therefore decisions are made about their lives that are based on what is available to them rather that what is in that young person’s best interests.”


Notes to Editors

  • You can view both the adult report and the easy read report here
  • You can watch the Commissioner’s summary of the report on YouTube
  • Transitions definition: When a young person with a learning disability moves from children’s to adult services whether this is in education, health, social care or in other areas.
  • The Report ‘Review of Transitions to Adult Services for Young People with Learning Difficulties’ was launched at 10am, Beechlawn Special School, Hillsbourough on 13th September 2012

For all media enquiries please contact Patrice Morris (Communications and Engagement Officer) – or telephone 028 9031 6392 or mobile 07908 918 280.

Transitions YouTube video

The Commissioner’s summary of some of the issues raised in the report can be viewed by clicking the link below: