Thousands of children who require disability assessment needs are being left behind because staff have been redeployed to assist in Covid-19 contact tracing.
Health workers moved to other areas to help in testing and tracing has left a “real gap” in assessing children for their needs, an Oireachtas committee was told.
Some 6,058 children are currently overdue an assessment, with less than 10% of assessments being carried out within the statutory timeframe.
Representatives from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) released a report in October in which they raised serious concerns about “ongoing violations of the rights of children with disabilities”.
Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said some of the concerns includes the significant delay in accessing an assessment of need (AON).
#YourOCO Dr.Niall Muldoon is appearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to discuss our Unmet Needs report.— OmbudsmanForChildren (@OCO_ireland) December 1, 2020
Watch the livestream here: https://t.co/qQzPbBBNV7 pic.twitter.com/EuXK7CHvTj
The HSE has a legal obligation to start an AON within three months of receipt of a child’s application.
The Oireachtas Committee for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration heard that only 9% of AONs would be completed on time.
Dr Muldoon said this stems from decades of dereliction from successive governments and a lack of funding.
Dr Muldoon also said that the HIQA’s plan to establish a new set of National Standards for the Assessment of Need for Children with disabilities will now not go ahead.
The ombudsman said that it was clear from parents’ complaints that children are “being left behind” because of the redeployment of health staff.
“It’s robbing Peter and there is nothing for Paul and that’s an unfortunate decision,” Dr Muldoon said.
He went on to say that these health professionals should be carrying out assessments of children who may have a disability and require particular needs.
“It comes from decades of dereliction and lack of funding,” he added.
“No government can stand proud over this. The service and system has not changed in years.
It's robbing Peter and there is nothing for Paul and that's an unfortunate decision. Dr Niall Muldoon
“The system is setting itself up to ensure that children are not getting seen. It needs the political will to fund it… and there needs to be an increase in training programmes for staff.”
He also criticised the Government for forcing parents to go to the High Court over delays in carrying out assessments of children.
Dr Muldoon said that court cases were being taken despite a legal obligation on the State to complete assessments within three months of an application being received under the Disability Act 2005.
He also told the committee that their “eye are open” to the “tricks” of the government by moving children from one waiting list to another.
Sinn Fein’s Mark Ward said that the system needs to move away from “postcode politics”.
“These unmet needs are being pushed further down because of Covid-19,” he added.