A health authority in Northern Ireland failed in its duty to carry out timely assessments and provide services to carers of disabled children, a High Court judge has declared.
Mr Justice Treacy held that more than 40 requests from families to the Western Health and Social Care Trust should have been addressed differently.
His ruling came in a case involving an autistic teenager from Co Tyrone whose psychotic tendencies and intense dislike of females led to him attempting to hang himself and threatening his younger sister in 2008.
The 14-year-old's mother, whose role as his main carer led to her having a complete breakdown, brought judicial review proceedings after being told there was no budget available to meet her assessed needs.
Mr Justice Treacy set out how the trust had not replied to her initial request for assessment and did not respond to further correspondence.
He said: “Given the crisis situation this family faced, the failure to respond to these letters was simply shameful.”
A social worker who did carry out an assessment on the boy's mother — who is separated from his father — recorded that she had no family to assist her and urgently needed time out from her caring role.
A formal complaint was later lodged by her legal representatives in the Children's Law Centre over the trust's failure to answer correspondence for a fresh assessment.
The judge also heard evidence that this was only one example of a systematic failure to conduct assessments in its area.
Commending the Children's Law Centre for bringing together a “comprehensive and compelling picture of the scope and intensity of difficulties in this field”, he said it appeared that 41 families had received letters indicating a lack of current capacity to carry out carers’ assessments.
Mr Justice Treacy granted three declarations sought by the mother:
Following his judgment, Eamonn McNally, mental health solicitor with the Children's Law Centre, said the case had the potential to impact on hundreds of people.
“We have a number of already ongoing cases of families in similar situations who either can't get an assessment carried out within a reasonable period or access to the appropriate services once those assessments are carried out,” he said.
The mother of the autistic teenager — who now lives with his father — expressed hope that the ruling could help others.
She said: “The trust made me feel as if I was exaggerating all our problems in order to offload my son.
“Its too late to help me because our family is split up. I just see my son a few times a week and have to make arrangements that the wee girl is not there.
“The only thing that makes it good for me is it will help other people.
“If it even helped one other family to not have the isolation we had it will be worthwhile.”