I thank the Minister for coming into the House to address this important issue. I raise the case of a child in Kilkenny called James Brennan. I have the permission of his family to name him and to talk about his case. Obviously, this is a measure of last resort. In fairness to his mother, she has been battling on his behalf for every service he has received to date. She has been trying to obtain a school place for him. James is due to start school in September of this year. The nearest school, Clinstown national school, has an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit but unfortunately it is full. As there is also a waiting list, there is no possibility of James being able to attend there this year. There is another school in Kilkenny city, St. Canice's, which also has an ASD unit. That unit also is full and as there are nine children ahead of James on the waiting list, there is no possibility of him being able to attend school there. James's mother recently had a meeting with the management at the School of the Holy Spirit, an excellent school in Kilkenny catering for children with additional needs. He is tenth or 11th on the waiting list there and again, there is absolutely no possibility of him getting a place in that school.
I ask the Minister to personally intervene in this case to ensure there is a school place for James in September. It is not appropriate for him to attend a mainstream school with a special needs assistant, SNA. Sometimes, when no place is available within an ASD unit, a special education needs officer, SENO, will try to push parents down that road but it does not always work out. Often a child will start school only for it to not work out and then the child must move, which is extremely disruptive. Children starting school in September 2018 are now learning where they will be going. They are getting their letters telling them about starting school and there is no reason for James to be treated differently to other children. He is entitled to an education and to a school place. If parents decide not to send their child to school or if the child misses more than 21 days in a school year, the Department will be on to them fairly fast and yet here we have parents who are battling to get a school place for their child.
The School of the Holy Spirit, which I mentioned earlier, is the most suitable place for James. It has come up with a potential solution in that the school would have a place for James in September 2019. That is not ideal and in the interim, James would need to have a place in an ASD preschool, of which there is only one in County Kilkenny, located in Freshford. That preschool is awaiting funding to enable it to open a third room. In that context, the family has a number of obstacles to overcome. Will the Minister intervene and look into ensuring that James has a place in the School of the Holy Spirit? Failing that, will the Minister ensure that James can be accommodated in the ASD preschool in Freshford in order that he has the opportunity to attend a preschool before starting school in 2019? In that scenario, he would be starting school a year later than should be the case. He is not currently attending an ASD preschool because of the lack of spaces.
I have raised this matter on a number of occasions with the Department of Education and Skills. I raise it now as Topical Issue because this family really needs an answer and a solution.