For far too many children, Ireland has become an unresponsive, hard and cruel place in which to live. There is a fundamental lack of political prioritisation of the needs of children. Too many children in Ireland are homeless. Too many children are living in poverty. Too many children have to wait far too long for hospital appointments, be it for outpatient or inpatient treatment. The position regarding access to mental health services for children and young people is shocking and unacceptable. The position regarding access to speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and many other therapies is equally unacceptable. The lack of access to such therapies is appalling, particularly when they are critical in terms of the development of a child. For some children with special needs, access to special schools and school placement can be a very challenging journey, with very little advocacy for the child within the special education sector. The parents have to do all of the heavy lifting and beg for school placements, many of them sub-optimal in terms of the needs of the child. There are over 3,000 children who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation but there are thousands more living with their grandparents, uncles and aunts. The stress which we all see every week in our clinics is very distressing indeed to witness and very difficult on the families concerned.
Mental health services, although there is a lot of rhetoric, are clearly sub-optimal. There were 6,000 children waiting for primary care psychology appointments at the end of January 2018. Of these, 1,600 had been waiting over a year. Some 2,500 children and young people were waiting for appointments with child and adolescent mental health services. Of these, 350 had been waiting more than 12 months. I can go on. There were 15,000 children waiting more than a year for outpatient appointments and this month there are close to 9,000 children who have been waiting over 18 months for outpatient appointments. When he was Minister for Health, the Taoiseach pledged that this would be ended by the close of 2015. That has not happened and the numbers have gone up tenfold since.
The fundamental question I put to the Taoiseach is why services for children across the board, in so many areas, are so difficult to access. Why are waiting times so long in so many areas? Is the Government not ashamed of the very poor political prioritisation given to children's needs in our society? Can the Taoiseach explain the absence of such political prioritisation?