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4,000 children with disabilities in waiting list limbo – Ombudsman for Children



Just over 12 months since the publication of Unmet Needs, a report on the challenges faced by children with disabilities requiring an assessment of their needs, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) is again raising concern about the high number of children still waiting. If children have not even been assessed, how will they receive the services they need?

The Minister for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, recently revealed that there are nearly 4,000 children currently waiting for an Assessment of Need. That’s despite the introduction of the revised Standard Operation Procedure and other measures aimed at tackling the backlog.

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, has called for the HSE to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to account fully and publicly for the ongoing problems with Assessment of Need, despite significant commitments made to address these problems.

The Ombudsman for Children has said an explanation is needed from the HSE for the build-up in cases again, and that they must outline what is being done to address it:

“The Minister for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, speaking in the Seanad on 9th November[1] referenced the latest quarterly HSE data which indicates that just under 4,000 children are waiting for an assessment of their needs. I am extremely concerned that despite improvements earlier this year, it appears the number of children waiting for an Assessment of Need has shot back up.

“We are still receiving complaints from parents of children who are waiting very long periods for an Assessment of Need and subsequently for the services they require. This is extremely distressing considering the fact that early intervention is vital to securing positive outcomes for children.

“One recent complaint we received on this issue was made on behalf of Callum*, who is six and has been awaiting a HSE multidisciplinary assessment for four years – since he was 28 months old. There are too many children like Callum who are waiting far too long for an assessment. The same children will have to wait again for the services they need.

“Since we published Unmet Needs in October 2020, measures have been introduced aimed at dealing with the waiting lists. These include the allocation of additional financial resources, the establishment of new therapy posts, the implementation of a revised Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), and the reconfiguration of children’s disability services into Children’s Disability Network Teams. We were told these measures would improve the situation for children but instead we are seeing another worrying rise in the number of children waiting to be assessed.

“Assessment of Need delays are not a Covid problem. This has been an issue for many years and the fact that almost 4,000 children are waiting for an assessment of their needs suggests that things have not improved in the way that they should have. Children with disabilities are not being given the opportunity to reach their potential as a result of this failing.

“The HSE needs to explain why these measures, not least the introduction of the SOP, do not appear to be working. Further clarity is also needed as to exactly how many children are waiting for their needs to be assessed – the HSE quarterly data referenced by Minister Rabbitte is not yet publicly available. We need to know the average wait time and what areas of the country are most impacted.

“Crucially there needs to be absolute clarity on what is being done to deal with this backlog. Children do not have the luxury of time when it comes to waiting for their needs to be assessed, as is their right under the Disability Act 2005.”


Notes to Editors:

*The names of children included in this statement have been changed to protect their identity.

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office Unmet Needs report can be read here: