Youngsters With Special Needs Hit By Poor Planning

Teenager Stevie Riva was once a bright pupil who won awards for reading and writing. He looked forward to going to school and loved spending time with his friends. Although at times she found it difficult to cope with Stevie’s autism, the youngster’s mother, Gina, was able to gather her strength while her son was at school and was proud of how much he had progressed. However, as Stevie entered adolescence, his behaviour became too challenging for his teachers and he was excluded from the special needs school he attended in Edinburgh.

Two years on and now 16, Stevie receives little support and is in the full-time care of his disabled mother, who understandably feels isolated and aggrieved because her child has been disregarded by a system which was charged with caring for him.

Stevie is one of the growing number of vulnerable young people with special needs who have become the victims of poor planning on the part of social work and health departments. And even if care is eventually put in place for these teenagers, the transition can be far from smooth.

Even if a child’s routine is broken temporarily, the impact on families is enormous, but once they’re out of the education system altogether, suddenly their child needs love and attention 24 hours a day and the respite time which was available to carers during school hours is gone.

Carers feel disappointed, let down and angry. Ultimately, they also begin to worry about what might happen if the system again fails their child in years to come when they are no longer able to look after them because of poor health and old age. But the fact that these youngsters and their families are caught in limbo can be no surprise to those charged with organising their care. With most of these youngsters in the school system until the age of 16, their imminent need of adult services will have been known for some years.

It is difficult to see how social work bosses could have let an issue like this sneak up on them. Perhaps they were just hoping the problem would stay behind closed doors.

It is also certain that there will be an expectation that the voluntary sector will pick up some of the pieces but, with charity workers already stretched to the limit, it is unlikely they will be able to do much more than they currently do for these vulnerable youngsters and their families.

This summer, around 100 special needs teenagers left school and their “sudden” demands on adult services were felt by the bean counters in Edinburgh City Council’s health and social care department.

While some youngsters need support to take part in daytime activities, college and employment, others require residential care and a dedicated team of staff to look after them.

And, of course, it doesn’t end there – as from next year, a further 55 young adults are expected to leave the care of the council’s children and families department and make similar demands on the coffers held by the health and social care department.

Agreement was reached this year to boost the health and social care department’s budget by £1 million and increase it by a further £700,000 in the next financial year. This, however, appears to have been a gross underestimation of what is needed and a budget overspend of more than £3m is already forecast.

It is only now the problem has become so profound that the slow-turning cogs in the council have had no choice but to shift and begin their steady creak towards a potential solution.

In August, a team was charged with the task of overseeing the transition these children must make from school to adult services. They will begin the planning process when the child is 14 years old and make moves to source services and support carers.

But whatever measures are taken, it has so far been too little, too late for Stevie who continues to languish at his mother’s home while departmental heads ponder what on earth, if anything, they can do for him and his family.

The once cheery youngster now suffers from depression and has put on two stone in weight. Gina also rarely leaves the house as she must remain on hand to look after the teenager who now becomes extremely anxious in the presence of strangers and agitated if his mother even uses the telephone.

Stevie’s situation must be resolved quickly but swift action also has to be taken to ensure that the needs of others can be met in coming years so that they can mature and lead as fulfilling lives as possible.