Today, on International Children's Day, I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that it represents a sad indictment of Government policy that up to 4,000 children in Ireland are homeless. It is interesting that back in 2011, that figure was at 184. These children feel isolated and anxious and they crave the security of their own home. Those in hotels cannot even have their food cooked for them and, as the House will be aware, have to travel long distances to their schools.
Children with special needs in Ireland today are waiting far too long for an assessment of need, which is their legal entitlement. Some 4,000 children are overdue an assessment under the Disability Act. Access to therapists for children, which we know is key to early intervention and the full realisation of the potential of the child, is at an unacceptable level. We know speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists can do an enormous amount to help children with special needs in particular, yet there are thousands on the speech and language waiting lists, covering assessment, initial treatment and further treatment, and thousands awaiting their first assessment for occupational therapy. We know the impact an occupational therapist can have on a child with dyspraxia, for example, and on the parents also in terms of facilitating the progress of that child. We do not have a comprehensive early education programme for the youngest of children aged from one to four - we simply do not have it. We do not have access in any shape or form to multidisciplinary professionals for children with special needs aged between one and six.
Too many children, some 4,000, are waiting for inpatient hospital treatment across the three Dublin children's hospitals and over 10,500 are waiting for outpatient appointments. We know those delays compromise a child's health and have long-term repercussions. Some 18,000 are waiting for orthodontic treatment, with 7,500 children waiting over two years for an appointment with an orthodontist. In mental health, over 300 children are waiting over a year for access to child and adolescent mental health services and 1,600 are waiting more than a year for psychology appointments. In our education system, NEPS is hopelessly understaffed.
Children in difficulty or with complex needs in this country are simply not prioritised to the degree they should be. That is a fact. We have all met parents of children with special needs. They have far too many hurdles to jump and too many battles to fight on behalf of their children, particularly in regard to health and education. This is about priorities. Children should not have to wait so long for a house, for assessments or for vital intervention services. Does the Taoiseach accept the Government is failing these homeless children, children with special needs and children with mental health difficulties, and that far more needs to be done to alleviate these pressures?