Yvonne Murphy opened it to discover that, after a year of waiting, the Department of Social Protection had refused her appeal for payment of the domiciliary care allowance (DCA), having initially turned down her application last January.
Yvonne, 32, from Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, had applied for the payment regarding her daughter Abigail, who will turn 4 in March and who, in her mother’s words, “requires supervision 24/7”.
When the Murphy family applied for the DCA last January, their application was refused within three weeks. A similar fate befell 66% of applicants for the DCA last year.
Additional information was provided and the family appealed the decision, but now that has failed, Yvonne intends to launch a legal challenge, in much the same way as dozens of other families in recent months have.
Abigail was officially diagnosed with autism in October but she has been attending services at Limerick Early Intervention Services in Newcastlewest since Oct 2011, where she receives speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and play therapy, primarily to help her with her social skills.
“It’s very difficult,” says Yvonne. “There is no point sugarcoating it.”
Abigail cannot be left alone with other children as she doesn’t grasp the concept of playing with them, and in the past she has bitten other children so hard they bled.
“The sitting room curtains are closed at all times because she tries to go out the window,” says Yvonne.
When Abigail goes to a playschool twice a week for three hours, she is always with a play assistant. Yvonne says that she and her husband Martin “have no social life outside of our home”.
Yvonne had worked with children who had autism with Enable Ireland for six years before having Abigail, and the family, which also includes 9-year-old Lydia, are baffled as to why the monthly payment of €309 has been denied when the Department of Education sanctioned 14 hours of home tuition for Abigail within days of the request being filed.
“We couldn’t have sent in any more stuff,” Yvonne says of the DCA application process, adding that diagnostic reports and social work reports were all submitted. She has requested an oral hearing but the family will also see if solicitor Gareth Noble can bring a case before the High Court.
“I was speaking to him in November but I was convinced my appeal was going to go through.
“We are clinging onto that hope that he will be able to help us.
“The main criteria [for DCA] is that your child must have more care and attention than a ‘typical child’, and what more can we do to prove that?”
The DCA payment might cover petrol costs to LEIS, or for Abigail’s gluten- and dairy-free diet. It could help cover a multitude of things, but so far, the Murphys have been denied it.
“I am going to fight this to the end,” says Yvonne. “I am not going to give up.”