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Government urged to do more to ensure children with special needs get a school place

A family struggling to provide for the special needs of two boys are now at risk of losing their home, the Dáil has heard.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin highlighted the difficulties faced by some families, especially those with autistic children, in getting school places at this time each year.

“Every year ‘ordinary’ kids go back to school in September. Why is there always a problem for children with special needs to get school places?” Mr Martin asked the Taoieach.

Mr Martin highlighted the case of parents Darren and Gillen Bolger-Milne whose story was recently told on RTÉ’s Prime Time. They are under continual pressure to care for their autistic boys, Kyle and Ryan.

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Darren, a bus driver, had to cut his working hours to meet the demands. The Fianna Fáil leader said this put further pressure on the family budget, causing them to fall into mortgage arrears and raising the risk of their home being re-possessed.

Mr Martin, a former Education Minister, said he had many cases of families who were struggling to get special needs school places.

In reply the Taoiseach acknowledged the difficulties faced by individual parents.  Mr Varadkar said he understood this particular case was being looked at by the Education Minister.

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The Taoiseach said there were three education options for special needs children: a place in a special class in an ordinary school; a place in a special school; or home education.

Mr Varadkar said provision for special needs had been trebled since 2011, with 10,000 children’s places now available.  He said there were now as many special needs assistants as gardaí and a total of 13,000 special needs teachers.

“Yes, there are plenty of individual cases and plenty of families with children with special needs not getting care,” the Taoiseach said.

But he insisted that good progress had been made in addressing the issue.  He said almost €2bn was now being spent each year on special needs education – which was close to what was being spent on third level.

READ MORE: ‘We shouldn’t have to fight a two-year battle for our son’s school place’ – Mark O’Keeffe

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