Parent Information - Options in Northern Ireland

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.

Additional support is provided for Training for Success and Apprenticeship schemes for trainees with disabilities.

For further information of Training Programmes including Training for Success Programme and Apprentice contact your local Career Adviser at Career Service NI or go to click here

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 or vocational training options.  If your young adult is keen to get a job there are a number of options available:

Specialist Employment Services



Geographical Location


1.   AEL (Access Employment Limited)

Learning disability

Larne, Co Antrim

2.   Appleby Trust

Learning disability and Autism Spectrum

Armagh and Dungannnon

3.   Cedar Foundation

Physical disability and Brian Injury and also deliver Autism Service

Northern Ireland wide

4.   Clanrye Group

Pan disability including learning disability and Autism  

Co. Armagh and Co.Down

5.   Compass Advocacy Network 

Learning disability


6.   Disability Action

Pan disability (including learning disability and Autism)

Northern Ireland wide

7.   Derry Youth and Community Workshop

Learning disability and Autism


8.   Liberty Consortium

Learning disability and/or Autism


9.   Mencap NI

Learning Disability and Autism

Northern Ireland wide

10.        NOW Group

Learning disability and Autism

Belfast, Antrim & Newtownards, Ards and North Down and Mid & East Antrim

11.       Orchardville Society

Learning disability and Autism

Belfast, Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Derry~Londonderry, Strabane and Limavady

12.       Specialisterne NI

Autistic Spectrum


13.        Stepping Stone NI

Learning disability and Autism

Lisburn & Castlereagh Ards & North Down, Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon and Newry, Mourne and Down

14.        Triangle Progression to Employment

Learning disability and Autism

Antrim, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Cookstown, Moyle,Ballymena, Ballymoney, Larne, Magherafelt,  and Newtownabbey)

15.        USEL

Pan disability (including learning disability and Autism)

Northern Ireland wide


Other useful resources: –

  • Department for Communities is responsible for mainstream and specialist employment programmes to assist people to find work and provide in work support. Specialist employment programmes include:-
  • Workable NI – in work support programme
  • Access to Work NI – practical support for individuals and employers (such as specialised equipment, communication support, travel to work support etc)

For further information go to

The Department for Communities has a network of 36 Jobs and Benefits Offices (hyperlink – ) across Northern Ireland and also have an on-line recruitment site advertising job vacancies known as JobCentre On-line –

European Social Fund (ESF) Programme Directory 2018 – 2022.  There are 67 ESF Projects of which 22 projects are funded to support people with disabilities to learn new skills and gain qualification as well as gain employability skill and gain employment. For further information go to

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.

Parent Information - Options in Ireland

There are several different options available to young adults leaving school in Ireland. Some may choose to pursue further studies or training, while others may choose to seek employment. Still others may require flexible supports better suited to their unique strengths and needs.

Remember that at the age of 18, your son/daughter will be considered an adult and should be supported to make their own decisions. It is very important to involve them in the decision making about their future and that, except in exceptional circumstances, they make the final decision. Their decision may be different from what you want and this can be difficult; however, your continued support will always be needed.

Further Education and Training programmes are typically offered through Education & Training Boards at schools, colleges, and designated centres throughout Ireland. They can provide a wide range of academic and vocational opportunities, both full-time and part-time:



  • The Back to Education Initiative (BTEI)
  • Adult literacy
  • Community education
  • Evening courses


  • Post Leaving Certificate (PLC)
  • Youthreach
  • Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS)
  • Apprenticeship
  • Traineeships
  • Blended Learning
  • Local Training Initiatives



Further Education qualifications are offered at Level 1 through Level 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications, and thus can enble some adults with disabilities to progress to higher education. You can find a searchable listing of courses by visiting the Further Education & Training Hub.

There may be specialist training programmes or courses for those with disabilities, which can be identified by contacting your local Education and Training board. When exploring any further education options, be sure to discuss what supports and accommodations may be available directly with the course provider.

Fortunately, third-level institutions are increasingly acknowledging that many individuals with disabilities can be successful with the right supports. There are now a number of resources and supports available for those who would like to pursue higher education.  In addition to the resources listed here, it is important to contact any University of interest to enquire about their programmes of study, services, and accommodations for those with a disability.

Supports to Access Higher Education

Direct Access Route to Education (DARE).   DARE offers an alternative path of entry to higher education for school leavers with disabilities, where it is demonstrated that the disability has had an impact on their second level education.  Where eligible, The DARE programme allows individuals to access a participating college or university with reduced Leaving Certificate points. Participating Colleges and Universities are required to reserve a number of places to offer DARE applicants. 

Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD).  AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to help those with disabilities participate in third-level and further education, and to enhance their employment prospects. AHEAD provides information on access to education, supports and services for those with disabilities enrolled in third level, as well as resources for those seeking employment beyond school.

Rehabilitative training courses help adults with disabilities develop life skills, social skills and basic work skills. They are designed to help individuals develop greater levels of independence and participation in their community. Participants attend these courses for two to four years and are supported to develop and review training plans in line with their needs and abilities.

The National Learning Network is the largest, non-governmental rehabilitative training organisation and operates in nearly every county throughout Ireland. However, they are not the only provider of such programmes. The HSE Occupational Guidance Officer can advise adults and carers on options available to them.

Day services may be available to those with high support needs, requiring greater flexibility and more individualised supports. Although these services have historically been delivered in a specific centre or location, recent policy guidance (New Directions) is encouraging a move away from such centre-based services. Quite often there may be a hub or centre that serves as a base, but much of the activity will occur in the community. The aim is to provide more person-centred supports and help people with disabilities participate as much as possible in their own community.

Day services will vary considerably with regards to what is provided, where and how (e.g. full-time/part-time), but some of the types of activities might include:

  • Recreation and hobby classes such as art, music, or dance
  • Classes to help develop independence skills such learning healthy eating habits or money management
  • Recreational activities such as going to the cinema or gym
  • Opportunities for volunteering


The HSE Occupational Guidance Officer can advise you of options available in your region.

Some young adults will be eager to move straight into the workforce. It is extremely important that these individuals are supported to find the right match, and that employers understand how to provide environments that will enable the person to thrive, to the benefit of both the employer and employee.

Supported Employment is a system designed to support people with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining employment. It is based on the understanding that with the right type of supports, everyone who wants to can make a meaningful and valuable contribution to the workforce. You can find more information about supported employment through the Irish Association for Supported Employment.

The government funds a national supported employment programme called EmployAbility with agencies throughout Ireland. This service can provide eligible individuals with supports such as:

  • Individual needs assessment
  • Vocational profiling and career planning
  • Individual employment plan
  • Job sourcing and job matching
  • On-the-job support and coaching
  • Advice and support to employers
  • Follow-up support and mentoring to both employers and employees

For more information and to discuss eligibility, you can contact your local Intreo centre or Social Welfare Branch Office.