Psychologists slam plans for assessment of children

The main body representing psychologists has slammed the HSE over proposals to change its Assessment of Need process for children, claiming it could lead to wrong diagnoses.

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), which has almost 3,000 members, intervened after the HSE said it was going to introduce a new screening process as part of the Assessment of Need (AON), which is supposed to allow children to be diagnosed and then apply for resources.

The current system is already the subject of a number of court judicial reviews after families claimed the HSE was not meeting its statutory requirements on AON, namely that the AON commences within three months of the application, and that it then be completed within another three months, including the furnishing of all relevant reports regarding what resources would then be required for the child.

Critics of what the HSE has suggested believe the proposal would effectively allow the HSE to get around delivering the diagnostic assessment part of the process, and instead simply make recommendations regarding possible services, which are themselves subject to resources.

Solicitor Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons, who has been involved in cases brought up in court by parents linked to AON, claimed the proposals would force more parents to go for private assessments, which in some cases are not accepted by the HSE.

The PSI issued a lengthy critique of the HSE proposals in which it effectively said its members would not co-operate with it, with the HSE then stating it would defer the introduction of the new system from April 1 to April 30.

In a nine-page statement the society said it was responding to concerns raised by members on the proposed implementation of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Assessment of Need within the HSE — something it said the HSE had undertaken without any prior consultation or agreement.

Claiming the new SOP “will in many cases prove detrimental to children and their families”, the PSI honed in on the proposed Preliminary Team Assessment (PTA) model, “to be completed in a maximum of 90 minutes, regardless of the child’s needs”.

The Psychological Society said this was contrary to the spirit of the Disability Act (2005) and that the PTA is “a brief screening assessment only”, adding “its introduction will significantly reduce the level of assessment provided to a child”.

Within such a short timeframe it is unlikely that a psychologist would be able to give an accurate indication of the nature or extent of the disability. In many cases, it would not necessarily be clear whether or not the child has a disability.

It said children could be indirectly diagnosed and those living in areas with gaps in services would be hardest hit.

“It is the view of the PSI that in the majority of cases it would not be possible for a psychologist to complete a comprehensive assessment, formulate problems, generate strategies, and feed these back to parents within the maximum timeframe of the PTA,” it said.

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