Transition period a ‘very emotive time for families’

Inspire Me! Young Ambassadors Peter Neil and Lauren Spence. INCT 52-702-CON
Inspire Me! Young Ambassadors Peter Neil and Lauren Spence. INCT 52-702-CON

THE challenges facing young people with a learning disability on leaving school have been highlighted at Mencap’s Northern district meeting.

More than 80 people attended the ‘Getting a full life’ event at Hill Croft School in New Mossley to find out about opportunities that are available for young people and their families going through the transition process. They also heard from the statutory bodies involved.

“A number of people shared their personal experiences, including local parents and Mencap’s co-chair, with the North Eastern Education and Library Board and Northern Health and Social Care Trust explaining their involvement in the process. It was also a chance for people to air their views on transition and ask questions during the Q&A session,” Aine O’Hare, Mencap community officer, said.

Mencap co-chair, Annette Crawford, gave the meeting an insight into her week, which previously involved going to a day centre five days a week.

Annette now fills her time with budgeting and shopping, and through the Northern Health and Social Care Trust’s (NHSCT) Day Opportunities Programme, works in an insurance office answering phones and opening forms. She sees friends and socialises at The Base in Carrick and attends college on Fridays to study maths and ICT.

“I am really happy with my life and I like the different things I do in the week. The only thing I would change is that I would like to be busy all week.”

The district event was delivered as part of Mencap’s Inspire Me! Programme and Inspire Me! Young Ambassadors Lauren Spence, who is from Carrick and Peter Neil, who is from Greenisland, helped out at the meeting.

Young Ambassador 17-year-old Luke Hutchinson, talked about his transition experience, which included being part of Mencap’s HYPE project.

Over 30 young people with a learning disability from six schools in the northern district area took part in the HYPE project this year, which stands for Helping Young People Enter Education and Employment. For Luke, this included work experience with a local business, volunteering opportunities and attaining his CEA Level 1 Employability Skills course.

“Mencap has helped me in so many different ways to do what I want to do and most important of all, they believed in me,” he said.

Representatives from the North Eastern Education and Library Board’s (NEELB) Transition service and NHSCT also spoke and explained their roles.

Pauline Cummings of the NHSCT said that one of the Trust’s key roles was to ensure that in the move into adulthood, people with a learning disability, family and carers received continuity of support during the transition period. “We understand that this is a very emotive time for families,” she said, “and we are committed to working together to improve it.”

The importance of options and support which meet the needs and aspirations of young people with a learning disability, the availability of real choices for a young person to continue to learn and reach their potential and the need for a ‘joined up’ approach by government departments and agencies to ensure that services worked in a more consistent way, were just some of the issues raised during a Q&A Session.

Speaking as part of the Q&A panel, South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan, vice chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee, said: “Everything you are asking for we have to get right. We need everyone to keep pushing us, as we need to learn from your experiences.”

Mencap has a number of services that are designed to support and prepare young people for leaving school, Aine O’Hare said. “We hope that the district event was a good opportunity for young people and their families to get the information they need to help them make informed choices about their future,” she added.