Northern Ireland

Health trust 'breached obligations' to autistic child

A health trust breached its obligations to provide services to an autistic child whose parents spent nearly £40,000 on private support, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice McCloskey granted a declaration that the authority failed to take steps to help the boy lead as normal a life as possible.

His parents funded support for three years until they ran out of money.

They claimed there was a breach of duty under the Children (NI) Order 1995.

The child, now aged 10, and the trust cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The court heard how no assessment of the boy's development was conducted from his birth until 2009.

No services were offered either, apart from occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy.

The boy's parents were informed by a social worker of the availability of respite services but declined to use them.

In 2005 they became aware of the Centre for Early Autism Treatment (CEAT) and an Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) it provided.

The programme was delivered by trained therapists from November 2005 to April 2009 at a total cost of £38,391.15 to the parents.


They were said to have continued funding it because of perceived positive developments in their son.

When it ceased because they could no longer afford to pay for it, they began extensive correspondence with the trust seeking support funding for an ABA programme or comparable services aimed at maximising their son's life skills and minimising disruptive tendencies.

The trust responded by carrying out an Understanding the Needs of Children in Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) report which concluded the child could benefit from respite support services.

It noted that the parents agreed with a recommendation for 20 hours a month of direct payments for respite support.

However, the family became dissatisfied and alleged that the UNOCINI assessment was limited to such care.

They claimed it failed to address their child's needs in developing positive life skills and discouraging disruptive behaviour.

Granting a declaration in the judicial review case, Mr Justice McCloskey said the trust breached its obligations by failing to assess the needs of a child in need, and provide services designed to minimise the effect of his disabilities and the opportunity to lead as normal a life as possible.

Nicholas Quinn, of McEvoy Sheridan Solicitors, who represented the family, said the parents were satisfied with the outcome, but also disappointed that proceedings were necessary to ensure their child secured his legal entitlement.

He added: "The outcome of the proceedings represents a clear vindication of the parents' decision to bring the proceedings before the court.

"The declaration should now be considered carefully by all the health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland to ensure that children who the law recognises to be in need receive the necessary services according to their individual assessed needs."