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Only 10% of children receiving needs assessment within six months says Ombudsman

The Ombudsman for Children has published a report criticising the the violation of children's rights brought about by delays in needs assessments.

According to The Irish Times, delays of several years were experienced by some families in getting their child assessed for suspected disabilities and the services they may require.

Health authorities are currently legally required to assess a child within six months of receiving their application, however, due to backlogs in the system, just under 10 per cent of applicants receive an assessment within this time frame.

The Irish Times reports that 5,533 children in the Republic are currently overdue an assessment, some of whom have been waiting years to be seen.

The Children's Ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon called the delays "grossly unfair", saying they may affect children for the rest of their lives.

“As a parent, knowing this, it is devastating to hear that your child will be waiting years for services like the children’s stories we have included in this report,” he said.

Dr Muldoon's report states that some families have resorted to taking out loans to cover the cost of private therapies, while others have taken legal action against the HSE to obtain an order to have their child assessed, facing a large legal bill as a result.

Dr Muldoon adds that his office receives “countless complaints from distraught parents”, adding that even once a child does receive an assessment, many families say they have faced difficultly accessing any or all of the services recommended for their child.

“It is reasonable for any parent to expect that the State will provide easy access to services, which will enable them to make the right decision about the care, education and health of their child,” Dr Muldoon said.

“If the policies that are actually in place in Ireland were properly adhered to, we would have a world-class system in place; however the reality is that in practice this is far from the case,” he added.

While welcoming the recent €7.8 million increase in funding from Tuesdays budget, the report calls for an even greater investment in children's services, accompanied with a clear strategy to make sustainable changes to the system.

The HSE said it welcomed the Ombudsman’s report and its call for a review of legislation in the area.

“The HSE is committed to actively participating in any review of this legislation,” a spokesperson said.