Thursday, 29 September 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Agus muid ag labhairt anseo inniu, tá os cionn 17,000 páiste ag fanacht ar teagmháil tosaigh ó fhoireann mhíchumas leanaí. Tá an Rialtas ag fágáil na páistí seo ar leataobh de bharr córas nach bhfuil ábalta freastal ar a gcuid riachtanas. As we speak, there are 17,000 children waiting for initial contact with children's disability teams. There are 2,500 children who are waiting for and overdue an assessment of needs. As the Tánaiste knows, these are crucial assessments the families and the children involved are entitled to, but they are being failed by a system that is totally unable to meet their needs. The situation is dire. It is continuing to get worse year after year under the Government. The number of these assessments carried out by the HSE has plummeted. Thousands of children are being failed by the State and left in limbo while they wait for care they are entitled to.
I will tell the Tánaiste about one of those children. Uisneach turned 13 last month. He received his official diagnosis of autism in an assessment report this week. Uisneach is a lovely little boy who has a rare syndrome involving physical and intellectual disability. His mother first asked for an autism assessment when he was six years old and beginning primary school. He got that assessment this summer as he became a teenager, following seven long years of uncertainty and barely in time to make applications for secondary school. Due to this shocking delay, Uisneach did not receive the supports of home tuition or July provision he was entitled to. He had autism his entire life and should have been entitled to both these supports but because he did not have the formal assessment and diagnosis, he was excluded from these supports. It was only after this official assessment was completed - seven years after it was requested - that his parents were directed for the very first time to any supports tailored for neurodiverse children. Because everything is put on hold for the assessment to be completed, delayed assessments mean delayed access to supports. Uisneach will not get that time back and he will not get back all the missed supports he was entitled to for many long years. Neither will the 2,500 children who are waiting for assessments of needs that are overdue or the 17,000 waiting for initial contact.
These families are left in limbo after reaching out for support. They are being failed by the Government, and this is happening under its watch. Ministers were out this week with announcements in the budget that sound impressive on the glossy surface. When you scratch beneath the budgetary spin, however, it is clear the Government has not responded adequately to the situation. The vast majority of money announced this week is to stand still, not to speed up, the delivery or assessments, or the badly-needed services that should follow these assessments. The Government's disability capacity review made it clear the levels of funding that were required to meet the needs of children and adults across the State. The Government provided a fraction of what was required. In doing so, just like last year and the year before, the Government will fail these children and many others like them.
When will the Government will deliver the investment needed to support these children and their families? When will it provide the investment necessary to ensure that they get the fairness and respect they deserve in a timely manner, and not be obliged, like Uisneach and his family, to wait seven years to be given the supports they are entitled to from day one? Will the Government rethink the budget decision and provide the resources to meet the needs of these children and deliver on the recommendation in its disability capacity review to the effect that substantial additional funding is required?