HSE told parent to call gardaí to arrest autistic son over ‘meltdown’

Teenager ‘treated as inconvenience because he is different’, mother claims

Independent TD Mick Wallace: said HSE “will not even communicate” with parent of autistic boy over care plan. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Independent TD Mick Wallace: said HSE “will not even communicate” with parent of autistic boy over care plan. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


A woman was advised by the Health Service Executive to call gardaí to take her autistic son into custody when he had a meltdown because services were closed for the weekend, the Dáil was told.

The woman was also threatened that her children would be put into foster care and when she challenged the HSE about this she was told she could be referred to Tusla.

Independent TD Mick Wallace read into the record of the Dáil parts of an email Jane Johnston from Wexford had sent him about the HSE’s reaction to her attempts to seek support for her two children one of whom, Evan, is 17 and has severe autism.

Mr Wallace quoted Ms Johnston, who said in her email: “I have been threatened with foster care and advised to call the gardaí if Evan has a meltdown because the HSE failed to give him the support he needs.

“When I took issue with these threats I was told that I could be referred to Tusla in the absence of my consent.”

Her son “is seen and treated as an inconvenience and a problem to our health service because he is different and difference comes at a cost”.

The Dáil heard that Evan was diagnosed with severe autism aged three. “He has significant mobility issues and due to a degenerative eye condition he also has significant visual impairment.”

Special-needs assistants

Mr Wallace said that when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the creation of additional special-needs assistant posts, he said Fine Gael in Government was determined that the recovering economy would pay dividends for all, particularly the most vulnerable.

The Wexford TD asked: “When the HSE encourages a parent to call gardaí to take an autistic teenager into custody who might develop behavioural problems at a time when the HSE has shut down for the weekend, does that sound as if it might maximise the potential of that child?”

He also asked if it maximised a child’s potential when the HSE threatens to refer a parent to Tusla when she refuses to call gardaí.

Mr Wallace added that Ms Johnston had sought a business plan for Evan’s transition from child to adult services but “the HSE will not even communicate with her”.

The Taoiseach said he was not in a position to comment on individual cases but “I am very sorry to hear about the experience the citizen the Deputy mentioned and the family have had.”

He said that if Mr Wallace passed on the information it would be examined.

He agreed with Mr Wallace who said that the State was not getting value for money from private institutions providing care, although some gave good care.

The Taoiseach said it was not only the case with the private sector but also with public providers and the charity sector. “The solution we want to move to is personalised budgets which give people with special needs or disabilities a personal budget which they or their guardians can use in whatever way they decide is in their best interests.”

Pilot projects have been done and a working group on autism to examine service-provision and what is good and bad practice had been set up.

He said the Minister is to establish a board for the HSE and the Government believes “its creation would improve accountability”.