Almost 100 teenagers with severe autism in Munster have been refused school places due to cutbacks in funding, cutting off their access to crucial educational and psychiatric support.
Eilis Barrett, whose daughter Antonia, 18, graduated from a special school last week, said her daughter refused a place in three educational centres because of the lack of funding and support. The Cork mother appealed to the Government for help to secure her daughter’s future.
"This is really like a Third World country," said Mrs Barrett. "Antonia is entitled to this education until she is 21 years of age. I didn’t realise how bad a situation we were in until we got the letters telling us Antonia would not have a school place in September, meaning we lose all our supports for her as well. They are wiping their hands of my daughter."
Antonia is one of 78 young people in Munster who have been refused a school space and are due to lose supports such as home help, medication, and psychiatric and respite care.
Antonia graduated from Our Lady Of Good Counsel School in Ballincollig.
Cope’s waiting list meant it had to prioritise young adults with no support service. Antonia’s affiliation with the Brothers of Charity meant they had to refuse her a day-centre place.
In a letter to Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister, the HSE said it was unable to provide the level of funding required for the Cork Association of Autism and that it was negotiating funding with the Brothers of Charity to secure a place.
"We have been fundraising for these support systems since Antonia was born," said Mrs Barrett. "I’m wondering where this money is now. It seems to me as if these charitable organisations are holding the Government to ransom.
"[Antonia’s] attention span is only five minutes. She sits at the window all day and asks is her school bus coming. She has very little concept of time and suffers from anxiety. She is on a lot of medication and has a psychiatrist but we will be denied all this come August if we cannot get her into a school.
"She cannot sit at home at the window all day, it’s not a good quality of life."
Journalist: Denise Calnan