Forty-one families with autistic children were wrongly told their needs could not be assessed because of a lack of resources, according to a High Court ruling against Northern Ireland’s Western Health and Social Care Trust.
The trust acted in breach of its duty to carry out carers’ assessments, the judge ruled, sending letters to the families informing them of a “lack of current capacity”.
From April 2007 to July 2009, the trust received 73 requests to carry out these assessments. The trust dealt with 32 of these requests, leaving 41 outstanding. Within those 32 completed, 54 unmet needs had been identified, but 42 of these were not addressed.
A statement from the trust said: “The trust apologises to those affected by the delays in carers’ assessment at that point in time. However, we would assure the public and families that these requests have all been completed comprehensively and systematically and any delays to carers’ assessments have been eliminated.”
The trust said any family with an autistic child that requested an assessment would receive one within 13 weeks.
The problem is widespread, according to sector experts, with social workers in Northern Ireland telling parents of autistic children that requesting carers’ assessments is a waste of time because there is no funding to provide for their needs.
“We’re hearing a lot of people say they’re being told by social workers that there was actually no point in being assessed,” Eamonn McNally, mental health solicitor with the Children’s Law Centre, told Community Care.
“Families don’t want to take the time to do an assessment if they’re not going to get anything out of it, but of course that’s not right – assessment is the gateway to services.”
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