Parent Information - Options in NI

There are four main types of options available to young adults leaving school in Northern Ireland which are outlined below. Funding for each option will vary depending on the type of service but they are usually funded by the  Health & Social Care Trusts,  Department for the Economy, Department for the Communities and European funding. If your son/daughter has more complex health and support needs a bespoke package could be possible and you will need to discuss this with your social worker.

At the age of 18 your son/daughter will be legally considered to have the capacity to make their own decisions about important areas of their life and from age 16 they should be consulted about decisions which affect them. This includes where they transition to, how they spend their money, who they socialise with and where they live. It is very important to involve them in the decision making about where they transition to and, if they have capacity, they will need to make the final decision. Their decision may be different from what you wanted and this can be difficult however your continued support will always be needed.  If you think your son/daughter needs to be assessed for mental capacity, you need to speak to your social worker or GP about the process at least two years before they turn 18 as there can be a waiting list for assessments.

Each of the Regional Colleges in NI have options for young people with learning disability. The courses focus on developing important life skills and independence and are usually accredited by OCN at Entry 3 or level 1. The eligibility criteria may differ between colleges, so it is important to contact the college yourself or ask the Careers Service for more information. 

For example, anyone intending to enrol on a Belfast Metropolitan College course need to attend 2 sampling days in February to ensure college is the right option and the right support is available.

FE courses are usually delivered between 3 – 5 days per week and there may be an opportunity to sample work placements as part of the course. Unlike school there is generally no transport available however some colleges offer transport during year 1 to assist with the transition.

FE is a good option for young people who enjoy classroom based learning and have achieved a level of independence with areas such as travel and money management. Support and supervision are available but not to the same extent as at school and this is an important consideration.

Some examples of college courses specially for young adults with learning disability are:

  • South Eastern Regional College (SERC) Foundation Skills (formerly Job Club) at SERC, in partnership with MENCAP (offered at Ards, Bangor, Lisburn and Downpatrick campuses)
  • Belfast Metropolitan College: Towards Work & Independence (Millfield Campus), Training for Success – Level 1 &
  • NRC: Transition2Work & Transition2College
  • WRC

There are other independent training providers who can offer vocational training courses, usually suited to young people with mild learning difficulties or high functioning autism. Providers include Rutledge, People 1stand Network Personnel and courses are available in areas including retail, stores and warehousing, child care and hospitality. As well as these providers there are a number of youth organisations that provide training opportunities mainly focusing on employment skills eg Prince’s Trust, GEMS, Workforce and Include Youth.

Want to find out more about FE options?

  •  Look up the providers online, the colleges have an online prospectus with course information.
  • Training providers usually attend careers fairs at local schools, this is a great opportunity to talk directly to course tutors to find out about criteria, course content and what support is available.
  • Contact the Careers Service, an advisor will be at the annual transition planning review.
  • Contact the course tutor and arrange a visit early in your young adults last year at school or go along to the open nights.

Day opportunities are usually offered by voluntary organisations and funded by a Health and Social Care Trust (HSCT). They are different to statutory services offered by HSCTs as they are often community based, do not offer transport and are not regulated by RQIA. This means they generally cannot provide support with personal care such as going to the bathroom or feeding.

There are many types of day opportunities available in Northern Ireland which are summarised below with some examples of organisations offering the service:

Community Group Activities: 

There are some providers such as Orchardville that offer group activities throughout the week. Groups meet each day and take part in a variety of activities to promote independence, health & wellbeing, volunteering and employability skills. To apply for a place you usually need a social worker to make a referral, see above section on role of social worker/care manager.

Social Enterprises

There are many social enterprises throughout NI that support people with learning disability and/or autism train for employment.  Social enterprises include coffee shops, print and design businesses, card making, candle making, factory environments and many more. They are often offered as part of an employability programme and there may be eligibility criteria to consider.

Employment & Training Projects

Employment & Training focused projects are offered by many voluntary organisations in NI and are generally funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), Health & Social Care Trusts, Department for the Communities and council grants. These projects will support your young person to find paid employment using  a model called Supported Employment.  The model is based on the principal that everyone with a disability can achieve a job if they have the right support in place from the employer and a supported employment organisation. The type of activities offered on an employment project usually include:

Pre-employment training eg interview skills, job search skills, specific vocational training such as customer care, food hygiene training etc.

Practical training at a social enterprise. This is a supportive environment to learn specific vocational skills as well as the general skills that are needed for work, for example the importance of being reliable, following instructions, being a team player etc.

Work experience or job sampling opportunities: This is voluntary work with an employer in the community to gain skills and experience in that area.  Placements are usually time limited and have a training plan in place to make sure progress towards gaining a job is being made.

Each voluntary organisation may have different selection criteria and there may also be some time limits on how long you can be on the project before progressing to work.  It is also important to know that  your young person may not attend on a full time basis as the projects offer an  individualised approach.


Most young people with or without a disability usually don’t enter the world of full time work straight away, opting instead for further or higher education.  If your young adult is keen to get a job there are a number of options available:

They can register on a specialist employment service as mentioned above.

You can talk to a Careers Advisor about apprenticeship programmes or employment opportunities in your area.

You can support your young adult to apply for jobs which can be found on various websites such as nijobfinder or



Statutory services e.g. Day Centres

Statutory services in NI are funded by the Health & Social Care Trusts and include day centres as well as outreach programmes offered as part of day centre activities.  Statutory day care is generally offered to young people with higher support needs including complex medical issues, challenging behaviour or with complex social and emotional needs.  Places throughout NI are becoming more and more limited so if you are thinking about this as an option it is important to speak to your social worker well in advance of leaving school and there is no guarantee of a five day placement.