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Parents of autistic children need government working for them

Although the secretary of state has published a budget which will keep public services running in the short term, the lack of a functioning executive is being felt at different levels in our society.

Providing money to maintain key services is crucial but there are innumerable ways a minister can affect lives, through strategic direction, informed decision-making and listening to the needs of ordinary people.

Sometimes it is not all about money but being able to seek answers and take action on behalf of the public when concerns are raised.

Ministers can also ensure that services in Northern Ireland keep pace with other jurisdictions, drawing on best practice and working with other departments and agencies to improve standards.

A clear example of departments with overlapping responsibilities working together for improved outcomes is that of health and justice in the case of young adults with autism.

Yesterday, the parents of a young man with Asperger's syndrome - a type of autism - told this paper how their distressed, anxious and depressed son spent four difficult months in Maghaberry Prison, despite a member of the jail's mental health team saying `he should not be there.'

He was eventually released after a magistrate returned him to his parents saying `prison is the last place this young man should be.'

Former justice minister Claire Sugden said prisons are not the place for people with mental health problems and pointed out the work that had been going on, before Stormont collapsed, with the judiciary and with then health minister Michelle O'Neill on dealing with vulnerable offenders.

However, she believes the fall of the structures has halted progress and direct rule could see services `fall behind the rest of the UK'.

There is also the wider issue of providing adequate support for autistic children when they reach adulthood, something that is a serious worry for their parents, many of whom are struggling to cope.

These are concerns that are real and pressing for hundreds of families who deserve to have a government working on their behalf.

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