Limerick parents’ anguish as toddler is placed on lengthy waiting list

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

The HSE says demands on children services have risen ‘significantly’

The HSE says demands on children services have risen ‘significantly’

A LIMERICK mother has spoken of her family’s anguish as they have been told that their toddler, who suffers with insomnia, speech and behavioural issues, will not be psychologically assessed for at least 12 months.

Doon nurse Erin Gaffney said that she and her husband Paul have been trying to secure appropriate care for their three-year-old son Dean, after receiving two referrals for early intervention in August.

Dean suffers with insomnia and presents with “aggressive” behaviour towards his parents and other children, Ms Gaffney said.

Though Dean is currently availing of play-based assessments at the East Limerick Children Services, Ms Gaffney said that her son urgently requires a psychological assessment as he has yet to be officially diagnosed with any condition. She said that Dean “bangs his head” off the floor and walls, and “headbutts” his parents.

“He will slap, bite, pinch other children, especially smaller children,” she said.

She has been informed that a diagnosis may not happen until early 2020.

And the Gaffneys’ personal anguish has been compounded by family sickness, financial hardship, homelessness risk and unsuccessful attempts to secure preschool and creche places. She said, eventually, she will have to leave her job to care for her son. 

Paul was admitted to hospital this Monday with “heart trouble”, and Erin was unable to be at his bedside as she could not secure a childminder for their son.

“He has had no time to himself for the last year, no time for exercise because he can’t leave Dean, and he has no energy because we rarely get sleep for more than two nights in a row. We both eat poorly because it’s impossible to manage it all, takeaways are easier,” she said.

She added: “I’m heartbroken. I can’t be at the hospital with my husband to give him support when he’s terrified he’s going to die. There is no one absolutely to help us and to mind Dean now for this time in our lives when Paul needs me.” 

Erin also said that she cannot visit her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer, due to “not being able to leave my son behind”.

“We have no support, no family left to mind him for short visits. My mum is the only person who was able to mind Dean for us.”

Erin, Paul and Dean had to relocate to a small granny flat on a farm in Doon after their landlord sold their previous four-bed home in Murroe.

“When the landlord sold this, we had no choice but to grab what we could. We couldn’t afford the €1,000-plus rents in the city or, in fact, Murroe.”

Ms Gaffney said that, after 10 months, a creche asked that they find another creche for Dean, claiming that they said: “My creche isn’t the right place for him.”

She said the first preschool for Dean was “too far away” and a second preschool rang them the night before he was to start, suggesting he receive home tuition. Erin said when the creche gave the parents’ two weeks’ notice, she was “very close to losing my job”.

“I rang frantically around, and realised when speaking to creches, they don’t want any kids if they have a problem with behaviour.”

Erin said that after she put in her notice at work, they found a minder “who cares about children and haven’t looked back”.

The minder looks after Dean while she is at work, three times a week.

But Ms Gaffney also spoke of the financial burden looking after their son. She said they have spent money on a speech app, sensory area, aquarium, toys and books.  

On top of the child minder, Dean has been seen by an occupational therapist, as well as two GPs, paediatric development consultant and home tuition. They have also spent a lot of money on furnishing the granny flat “to make it suitable to house Dean and my asthmatic husband Paul”.

“Because we nearly became homeless five to six months ago, we aren’t happy to have to pay for all of this. We need to save for a mortgage, we need permanent housing for our son.”

She said she has applied for an assessment of need which, if successful, will mean her son can be seen to within three to six months.

And though Dean is now engaging with early intervention, they will have to wait until January and April until some services commence, she said. She said she is also being advised to seek private care, which could cost them up to €1,000.

“I’m afraid each day leaving my son with others. I am afraid he will continue to get worse if we don’t get help. I’m mostly afraid of residential care for his future. I do not want that for him.”

Ms Gaffney said that she has issued a number of complaints to the HSE. The HSE told the Limerick Leader that it does not comment on individual cases.

“All complaints received by the HSE are investigated in line with HSE Policy. Demands for assessments and Interventions in relation to children’s disability services have risen very significantly over the last six to seven years. This has resulted in increasing waiting times in relation to some children’s services. Additional resources have been allocated to try to meet the demand.”