27th October 2022: Inclusion Ireland and AsIAm, two of the country’s leading disability advocacy organisations representing autistic people and people with intellectual disabilities, have given a cautious welcome to the decision of the NCSE to pause the roll-out of the flawed approach to the Assessment of Need process, which would have seen principals or teachers conduct the assessment, but have emphasised that pathway forward must be rapidly identified through deep engagement with stakeholders
Under the Disability Act of 2005, every child born after 2002 has the rights to an assessment of their needs. This process helps to determine if a child has a disability, what their needs are and what supports they should be provided with, subject to statutory resources. Under the Act, this process must be completed with 6 months of the date of application. In recent years, the HSE has failed to achieve these timelines leaving many children and families without access to diagnosis and educational based supports. A series of recent High Court and Court of Appeals cases have strengthened the right to a comprehensive Assessment of Need, this has included a Court of Appeal ruling which requires the National Council for Special Education to provide an assessment of a child’s educational needs when requested to do so by the HSE. This was a landmark ruling as families have waited nearly 20 years to secure this right, since the passage of the Act.
Last week, the National Council for Special Education announced that it would require principals, or in some cases teachers, to conduct this assessment despite these professionals being neither independent nor clinically qualified to carry out such work. This decision was paused yesterday pending further piloting and consultation
Responding to the news, Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm said “We were deeply concerned about the proposed ad-hoc approach to conduct what should be an independent, professional assessment. It would appear that the process envisaged was little more than a copy and paste exercise of existing documents. What support a school is currently providing to a student is not an assessment of what they child may in fact need. Furthermore, principals have a key role in allocating SEN resources within schools and are arguably not in a position to independently assess the needs of a child in a statutory process. The state should hold true to the spirit of the law and meaningfully engage with stakeholders without delay to find a pathway forward which fully complies with the Court judgement
Derval McDonagh CEO of Inclusion Ireland states: “Assessment of Need remains incredibly challenging for children and their families. What is clear is that the Disability Act, the legislation underpinning the assessment process, is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose. Enshrining the right to an assessment of need within the legislation without the right to interventions means that disabled children are often left without meaningful support. It is a missed opportunity this year to review the EPSEN act, without a full and comprehensive review of the Disability Act, otherwise we will continue to see challenges in the coordinated and appropriate delivery of supports to children who need it the most. All of the workarounds for the AON process we have seen in recent times are a direct result of legislation which is not fit for purpose, combined with a lack of proper resourcing of teams in health ,social care and educational settings . Hand in hand with the legislation review, a full and comprehensive workforce planning strategy needs to be a priority, otherwise we will continue to see the challenges for children accessing their right to an inclusive education which meets their individual needs”