Thousands of children with disabilities waiting years for supports

Experts say delays may result in many children failing to reach their full potential

Colm Keaveney: said the data highlighted “shocking gaps” in how the State was failing to respond to the needs of vulnerable children

Colm Keaveney: said the data highlighted “shocking gaps” in how the State was failing to respond to the needs of vulnerable children

Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 01:00

Gaps in early assessment services mean thousands of children with disabilities are waiting years for vital supports such as speech and language therapy, new figures show.

Experts say these delays are damaging and may result in many children with conditions such as autism regressing and missing out on the chance of reaching their full potential.

Parents groups and campaigners warn that children aged seven or more are most likely to be waiting years for services, as there is no legal right to assessment for these children.

Official Health Service Executive figures show some of the longest waiting lists of two years or more are in occupational therapy services. Some 2,090 children are waiting at least 12 months for a service which would assist them with accomplishing everyday tasks such as dressing.

There are also lengthy waiting lists for speech and language therapy, with 1,940 who have difficulty speaking waiting a year or more for an assessment. A further 2,983 had already been assessed as requiring a service, but have been waiting at least a year without a response.

‘Shocking gaps’
Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on disability Colm Keaveney TD, who obtained the figures, said this data highlighted “shocking gaps” in how the State was failing to respond to the needs of vulnerable children.

“This means that instead of getting the early treatment they need, thousands of children in these areas are waiting for over a year just to get a basic assessment of their needs,” he said.

“This comes down to the simple question: how seriously does the State take its duty of care towards children with special needs? These figures must act as a wake-up call for the Government.”

In its response to the deputy, the HSE said it was working to ensure services were delivered in as equitable a manner as possible within available resources.

Initiatives
It has introduced a number of initiatives such as therapists increasing clinic-based work instead of domiciliary work and providing family-centred interventions in a group as opposed to a one-to-one setting, where possible.

As part of a new policy, it said it is expanding early intervention teams this year with the recruitment of an additional 80 therapeutic staff.

These teams – which include frontline professionals such as therapists and psychologists – are aimed at providing faster and more integrated support to children.

However, many areas do not have these teams, even though it has been policy to roll them out for several years now. There are no early intervention teams in the wider Dublin area, for example, and large gaps across the south and east of the country, according to HSE figures.

Catherine Cox of the Carers’ Association said the stress among parents fighting for their children’s rights has taken its toll.

“We have seen families recently losing home support for their children which is putting tremendous pressure and stress on already stressed parents and families.”

While the State is legally obliged to provide speedy assessments for the under-sixes, there is no such obligation in relation to older children.

Lorraine Ryan, whose son Maurice has autism, said many children beyond the age of six are not able to access any meaningful services.

“The system isn’t working. It is in total disarray,” she said.