asked the Minister for Health the arrangements in respect of appropriate accommodation and personnel that are being made for students who will leave special schools at the end of the current school year and for their subsequent placement.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Mentally-Handicapped School Leavers.
Arrangements for and/or the provision of services for mentally handicapped school leavers is a matter for the agencies involved in the provision of services for mentally handicapped people in consultation with the local health board.
Would the Minister not agree that this question refers to the weakest link in the placement of such people, has long been so, and requires urgent attention to have it remedied?
I would agree there is a particular urgency in the general area of adult mental handicap and school leavers. I have been endeavouring throughout the country to provide more effective facilities for such adults. My strong view is that it should be provided in hostel accommodation, with half a dozen such handicapped adults or young people with, say, a house mother or house father, as distinct from the pressure which has been on to have major adult institutional structures for such persons. To that extent I have been endeavouring in recent months to get the co-operation of the various organisations. They have very much come round to my way of thinking on the matter.
Would the Minister's reply not have conveyed that he considered it a matter for each individual health board to deal with and, seeing that they have not responded over quite a considerable period, would he not consider placing greater emphasis on or of giving them the benefit of his feeling on these matters?
We must bear a number of factors in mind. First, the population of mental handicap in the country is falling rapidly, due largely to better general help. I have been urging the health boards and the voluntary organisations, who are involved in a very large way in the care of the mental handicap, to provide capital moneys for the purchase of bungalows or small houses, particularly in rural areas adjacent to large centres, so that accommodation could be provided there on an effective basis and in an extraordinarily beneficial setting for such young adults and adults. A fair amount of capital moneys have been provided in 1985 for that kind of exercise.
Is the Minister aware of the very large reduction in the amount of money from the European Social Fund to the health boards in the current year which will cause them a very serious problem in providing this service? What arrangement is the Minister making to ensure that such boards will have sufficient funds at their disposal to provide a service for the handicapped?
I am aware of the particular difficulties there. My Department are keeping in very close touch with the other agencies in the matter. I might make the point that a very large number of day care centres and workshops for the mentally handicapped have been built throughout the country and are now fully operational. We are fortunate in that a lot of European Social Fund money has been used in that direction. I do not have any fix, as yet, for the 1985 prospects of the European Social Fund money except to say that within the Community generally there is a very considerable tightening up of the criteria by which such moneys are made available for training and retraining purposes and we have benefitted enormously from such funds over the past ten years.
Is the Minister aware that the length of time in training has now been restricted at EC level? Is he aware that there is now very little opportunity for such trainees to engage in normal factory work — for example, in production? Would the Minister appeal to management to make a place for such people because heretofore there was a chance of getting them into, say, woodwork training, especially as obtains in Monaghan?
I have been pressing very strongly the State agencies, including the health boards themselves. I might make the point that the health boards employ 63,000 people, including 3,000 part-time people. It is now down somewhat, probably down a couple of thousand over the past four or five years, but it is still around the 60,000 mark. Within that framework it should be possible for a substantial number of persons who are mentally handicapped to be employed both by these and the other agencies. The overall situation has improved enormously. For example, the effective work done by the NRB and the other agencies has paid rich dividends in recent years. I am working on other areas.