I thank the Deputy for raising this question and giving me the opportunity to clarify the position. I have been observing the engagements of the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration with the families, the Children's Ombudsman and other representatives.
The length of time to complete an assessment of need under the Disability Act will vary depending on the child’s complexity of need. The average time from receipt of application to the completion of an assessment of need report in 2019 for a child is just under 20 months nationally but there is considerable variation between and within the different community healthcare organisations, CHOs.
The Disability Act 2005 was commenced for children aged under five in 2007. The intention at the time was that the HSE would provide assessments of need under the Act for this group only while the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act 2004 would provide assessments for schoolgoing children. However, it is important to note that the relevant sections of the EPSEN Act were never commenced. As a result of a High Court ruling in December 2009, the effect of which was to open eligibility to all children born after 1 June 2002, the number of children aged five and over and, in addition, of schoolgoing age, has increased steadily as a percentage of applications received, increasing from 26% in 2011 to 55% in 2019.
This reflects that the assessment of need process is an accumulative one in terms of the numbers seeking access. The recent welcome allocation of €7.8 million through Sláintecare to address overdue assessments will further support the HSE and its funded service providers in ensuring children access the appropriate therapies as soon as possible. Assessment of need is a nut we need to crack. There is no denying that. The lengths of time families are waiting to access assessments has turned this into an industry.