Ombudsman for Children launches new report, ‘Unmet Needs’

by Gazette Reporter

The Ombudsman for Children has today launched Unmet Needs: A report on the challenges faced by children in Ireland who require an assessment of their needs. 

The report raises serious concerns about ongoing violations of the rights of children with disabilities and recommends several actions to remedy this, taking a child-centered and rights-based approach.

Among the issues highlighted are the significant and lengthy delays being faced by children and their families in the completion of an assessment of need (AON), despite the legal requirement to begin the AON within three months of receiving an application.

Demand for applications for AONs quadrupled between 2007 and 2018, but just 8.8% of assessments were completed on time in 2018. The projected figure for timely completion in 2019 and 2020 was also just 9%.

Among the findings in the report include:

  • Lucy, who is non-verbal and has a diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder combined with Mild General Learning Difficulties, has now turned 11-years-old and has still not received the clinical services recommended for her as a six-year-old following an AON in 2015
  • Four-year-old Sarah, who has sensory issues, was told she faced a 27-month wait for an AON
  • Michael had still been waiting 19 months for an AON when his family contacted the OCO
  • Some parents are so desperate that they have taken credit union loans out to pay for private therapies. Others pay costly legal bills to take the HSE to court to obtain an order forcing them to undertake an assessment for their child.

The report recommended:

  • Additional resources to get to grips with the significant waiting lists, notwithstanding a recent announcement by Government of €7.8 million in extra funding
  • Changes to the 2005 Disability Act to ensure a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to the assessment and identification of a child’s development needs
  • Amending the definition of a disability to one that incorporates a rights-based, child-centered and inclusive approach
  • Recognition of the special educational needs of children in legislation, via changes to the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN) Act to ensure these needs are met in a timely and appropriate manner.

Commenting on the report’s findings, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon said: “The OCO has received countless complaints from distraught parents whose children have been on a waiting list for years to access an assessment of need for their child.

“Additionally, many have found that once their child is assessed, they then struggle to get any or all of the services recommended to help their child talk, move, learn and grow.

“Every child with a disability in Ireland has the right, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to the highest level of health and education to fulfil their potential as human beings.

“In addition, by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Government has committed to the progressive realisation of the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities”.

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