Labour's Motion on Autism and Disability Services - Duncan Smith

Campaigning matters – progress in the Dáil on Autism and Disability assessments
View our motion on Autism
Labours Motion on Autism

Duncan Smith, Labour Health spokesperson writes about the success of our Dáil motion this week calling for improved autism and disability assessments and supports.

On Wednesday the Dáil debated our motion calling for immediate action to tackle the shocking waiting lists for assessments and therapies for autistic children and those with disabilities. It was a rare victory for those who in far too many cases are waiting months, and years for vital interventions.

In response to a Labour Party motion in the Dáil, the Minister for Disability made a significant contribution and confirmed that she will take up the policy approach of allowing parents who must resort to paying for their own assessments for their children with disabilities to be reimbursed by the State. If the six planned regional assessment teams are not set up by 1st August to tackle the enormous assessment of needs waiting lists, the Minister said she will bring Labour’s proposals for covering costs to the Budget. No child should have to wait for an assessment of need but unfortunately as it stands, thousands of children are.

Our motion recognised that the needs of children should be met by the State first through the provision of well-resourced public health and education services, and that early intervention is vital. However, in far too many cases, young children are failed by an under-resourced and over-capacity system for assessment of needs and the provision of essential supports and therapies once a diagnosis of autism or disability is secured. Our motion also called for pay parity for those in Section 39 organisations, and strategic workforce planning, but without immediate action far too many families will not be seen by under-resourced and understaffed Children’s Disability Network Teams.

We were delighted that the Darmody family and other campaigners like Ali Field were able to join us to hear Government concede at last. The Darmody family are just one of the thousands of families nationwide who are at breaking point, and Cara has been a vocal campaigner in support of her two brothers. As funding was made available by the HSE for families like the Darmody’s to receive a private assessment, then our view was it must be made available to the thousands of children waiting for their assessment until such time as waiting lists are cleared and the delay is no longer than six months. We also demanded increased accountability from the HSE with a fit for purpose complaints system, alongside a National Autism Strategy underpinned by legislation and a review of the Disability Act.

As of March 2023, 10,696 children have been waiting for over 12 months for initial contact with a Children’s Disability Network Team (CDNT), an increase of 836 since December, and 17,157 were waiting in total. The uncertainty and lack of support for these families is nothing short of a national disgrace. Over 100,000 children are waiting for a primary care disability intervention.

We need to see action from Government now. Labour will continue to hold the Minister to account to ensure that children currently on waiting lists have their needs assessed without any further delay.

Early intervention is crucial for children in order to avoid permanent developmental delays. For so many people, the increased cost of living is also a major concern. There’s even more pressure on families where a child has autism or a disability with studies showing the extra costs running into thousands of euros. That’s why our motion also called for the introduction of a cost of disability payment to level the playing field for families, along with a review of Carers’ Allowance, and other social protection income supports, to guarantee that it meets the needs of those caring for their relatives. Government must commit to this in Budget 2024.

This was the third time in as many years that Labour has demanded radical change for families left behind by this Government. We are seeing some progress, but far more remains to be done.

You can read back the full debate here.

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