Large sections of the country have no early intervention teams to help children with serious disabilities — risking potential havoc for their development.
Official figures show that while the HSE is attempting to shore up gaps in the disability sector, thousands of children are being left without vital early help for years — guaranteeing their conditions only get worse.
According to a parliamentary question response to Fianna Fáil’s disability, mental health, and special needs spokesman, Colm Keaveney, Dublin and Cork City have no early intervention teams for those in need of speech and language, occupational, and physiotherapy help.
The same service gap is apparent in Carlow, Kilkenny, Kildare, and Wicklow — with just 58 early intervention teams tasked with supporting 6,399 children across the country.
The data shows 1,940 children wait over a year to be assessed for speech and language difficulties which will deteriorate without intervention. A further 2,090 children are waiting the same length of time for occupational therapy help.
“The whole idea of early intervention teams is to provide assessment and support to children with special needs as soon as their needs become apparent,” said Mr Keaveney.
“Research shows that by identifying a disability at a young age and mapping out an appropriate care plan, a child has a much better chance of quality of life and a much better chance of managing their disability. But this service is completely crippled by a lack of resources.
“This comes down to the simple question: ‘How seriously does the State takes its duty to care towards children with special needs?’
“These figures must act as a wake-up call for the Government.
“If the Minister for Health, James Reilly, and Junior Minister, Kathleen Lynch, truly believe in the need to provide the most basic level of support for children with disabilities, they will intervene now and ensure this crucial service is properly resourced.”
The stance was supported by Special Needs Parents Association spokeswoman Lorraine Dempsey, who said the problem is a “scandal” to rival that of the ongoing charity top-ups controversy.
While she accepted the HSE is attempting to tighten gaps in the service through a new Progressing Disability Services system which will allow families to apply for help regardless of what area they are in, Ms Dempsey said if nothing changes the issue is only going to get worse.
“Without long-term investment, you’re going to have problems developing for the rest of these children’s lives,” she said.
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