HomeCivil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionAssessment of Need Judgment Has Important Implications for Children

Assessment of Need Judgment Has Important Implications for Children

  • Posted

In January 2024, the High Court issued a judgment that could potentially impact a large number of children who have already experienced long delays in receiving an Assessment of Need by the State.

Assessment of Need 

The Assessment of Need (“AON”) is widely considered the first step towards securing supports for children with disabilities in Ireland. An AON identifies the child’s health needs and establishes what services are required to meet their needs and contains the following information:

  • The nature and extent of the disability
  • A statement of the health and education needs of the applicant
  • A statement of the services considered appropriate to meet the needs of the applicant and a period of time which would be appropriate for the services to be made available
  • A time period within which a review should be carried out

Time is of the Essence

The importance of having an AON and a Service Statement put into effect in a timely manner cannot be understated. Research shows that early diagnosis of and intervention for autism, for example, are more likely to have major long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills.

As a result, the right to an AON in a timely manner is enshrined in the Disability Act of 2005.

Recent High Court Judgment

The Judgment of Ms. Justice Bolger which was delivered in January illustrates yet another shortcoming on the part of the State to properly rectify the extensive delays that parents and children are facing in securing this essential service.

The challenge before the Court relates to the child’s entitlement to have his educational needs assessed as part of the AON.

Assessment of Educational Needs

Following a separate judgment in 2021, the recognition and acknowledgement of educational needs in the AON was positive for children undergoing the AON process. However, the implementation of the assessment of education needs by the State has been problematic.

The involvement of teachers and school principals in the process was protested, as the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation felt the State was using school supports to replace the assessments which otherwise would have been undertaken by educational psychologists to the detriment of the child.

The deputy principal in the school in which the child attended, in this case, was one of three teachers involved in the Assessment and in his affidavit, set out his concern about the short period of time he was given to complete the report in which he described the process as “a box-ticking exercise” with no real engagement with the child’s education needs or the educational services needed to meet those needs.

Ms. Justice Bolger criticised the process in her judgment and found it did not meet the requirements laid out in the Disability Act.

Assessment of Need Delays

This judgment comes in light of considerable backlogs in the AON process and an already stretched system.

Standard Operating Procedure

In early 2022, the State introduced the Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”) as a quick fix to the considerable delays and waiting lists whereby the comprehensive professional assessment process was replaced by a uniform screening session and reduced what once took 29 clinical hours to a 90-minute session.

Following the outcome of judicial review proceedings, the Health Service Executive (“HSE”) was ordered to contact the parents of the 10,000 children who had their needs assessed under the SOP to establish if they wished to receive a further assessment. This has led to more children being placed on already long waiting lists.


It is yet to be determined how the most recent judgment will impact the rights of children on waiting lists for Assessments of Need.

These judgments highlight the shortcomings on the part of the State in rectifying a situation that is becoming increasingly more damaging to children with disabilities in Ireland.

Further Information

Lavelle Partners have extensive experience in representing clients in respect of issues and complaints concerning assessments of need, access to services and challenging state decisions in respect of care and welfare allowances.

For further advice on any Assessment of Needs matter, please contact Partner Avril Scally or Solicitor Rory Knight.