Families of autistic children to campaign over allowance

Parents of autistic children are planning a national campaign to highlight the hardship families are facing due to refusals and reviews of a welfare payment called the Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA).

A meeting tonight organised by Irish Autism Action (IAA), comes on the back of a year-long anecdotal study whereby the group has asked parents who have been refused DCA to tell their stories.

IAA said it wants to take parents’ anger and channel it into a concerted effort to highlight an issue “the Government must resolve”.

It says from Carlow to Clare, parents are at their wits end and feel frustrated and disillusioned that children with autism or Asperger syndrome are not being recognised.

Three mothers who are looking for a judicial review of the decision-making process around the DCA, will also make a presentation in the Dáil this week, and it is understood Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has agreed to a meeting with the women.

Figures from the Department of Social Protection show the DCA is paid to more than 24,000 parents or guardians in respect of 26,000 children at a cost of about €100m.

In 2011, of a total of 403 reviews carried out, 187 families were found to be no longer eligible and 52 cases have yet to be finalised, the department said.

Also last year, 2,420 people appealed their decision — both reviews and first time applicants — and 1,259 (52%) of those appeals were successful.

Figures from the Department of Social Protection show that last year it received 5,525 applications and that 5,396 were fully processed. More than half — 2,894 applications — were disallowed with 2,502 allowed, including those cases initially refused but granted on review.

Wicklow TD Simon Harris said he has been inundated with stories from all over the country, almost exclusively parents of autistic children: “Why are so many children with autism being subjected to reviews all of a sudden when their needs have not changed? Why are so many families of children with autism being refused payments they and their doctors know they need — they supply medical evidence in support of them.

“Some of the reviews I have come across happen at the most bizarre times, such as when an autistic child turns 13 years of age, moves to secondary school or commences puberty... Such reviews can be insensitive.”

In the Dáil in recent weeks, Ms Burton said there was no question of children with an autism spectrum disability being treated differently from others.

“The percentage of children on the autism spectrum that are refused DCA is in line with the overall refusal rate,” she said.

However, the Department of Social Protection told the Irish Examiner that statistics were not available on the disability or illness of the individual children for whom the DCA is stopped.


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