Delayed assessment of children with disabilities a ‘breach of their rights’, committee told

Most assessments of children with disabilities not completed within statutory timeframe

The delayed assessment of needs for children with disabilities is a "national scandal" and a "breach of their rights", an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Under the Disability Act 2005, the provision of an assessment must be commenced within three months of its initial referral, and completed within three months of commencement.

The aim of an assessment of needs is to determine what services are required to meet the needs associated with a child’s disability.

However, Gareth Noble, a child rights solicitor, told the Oireachtas committee of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration on Tuesday that 91 per cent of children are not assessed within this statutory time frame.

“It has lead to untold and ongoing damage, stress and real prejudice to children. It cannot be dressed up as anything other than a breach of their rights,” he said. “I am asking the HSE to do no more than to comply with the law.”

Mr Noble cited cases in which children had received assessments which stated they “urgently” needed specific services.

However, the service statements issued to the child’s parents stated that the earliest date these children would be seen for these “key interventions” would be August 2022.

“That’s an unacceptable dereliction of duty and an unacceptable breach of duty of care. It’s crazy that parents would ever have to countenance coming to me to get basic rights vindicated,” he said.

Speaking at the same meeting, Mark Smith, from the Psychological Society of Ireland, said the new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to assess children is "neither evidence based nor good practice".

‘Intolerable situation’

Under the SOP, which came into effect in January 2020, children are assessed under a 90 minute evaluation.

However, Mr Smith said in most cases, the SOP resulted in a recommendation for further assessment, as opposed to intervention and support to assist these children and their families.

“It remains our considered opinion that the changes to clinical practice described within the SOP will in many cases prove detrimental to children and their families,” he said.

Mr Smith said under this model, children’s waiting lists will increase from between three and five years to between five and eight years.

“I have yet to speak to a colleague where a waiting list is less than three years. In one area, parents are getting standardised letters saying at the age of five, your child will be seen at the age of ten. At the age of ten, your child will be seen at the age of 15,” he explained.

“We need to get ahead of this now so we’re not back here again in a year’s time seeing exactly what we have predicted will happen.”

Mr Smith added that the members are concerned that compliance with the SOP could result in them being in breach of the codes of conduct and ethics.

The Psychological Society of Ireland, the Association of Occupational Therapists in Ireland and the Irish Association of Speech & Language Therapists called for the "immediate cessation of the SOP".

“The implementation of this new approach will exacerbate an already intolerable situation for the children of Ireland and their families,” they added.