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Caring for a child with a disability

Introduction

If you have a child with a disability you need to know about the various services in place to support you. Legally, a child is someone under the age of 18 years. Often however, parents (or other family members) continue to care for children with disabilities long after they reach adulthood.

Children with disabilities are entitled to the same services and family benefits as all other children. The emphasis in the following information is on those services and payments specifically related to disability. They apply whether the child was born with the disability or acquired it later.

You can find more information on services and supports in our booklet Entitlements for children with disabilities (pdf).

Providing for a child with a disability

Parents have an obligation to maintain their children until adulthood. Although a child with a disability may be maintained by their parents after the age of 18 this does not provide them with any special entitlement to provision in a parent’s will.

You may use a covenant as a tax-efficient way to give money to a child aged over 18, but this could affect the child’s entitlement to Disability Allowance.

If you want to make specific provision for your child, you should get legal advice. One option is a trust from which your child may benefit after your death. Many parents use discretionary trusts to provide for a child with a disability without affecting entitlement to benefits.

Most public sector occupational pension schemes, and some private sector schemes, have provisions that allow for the pension arrangements for dependent children to continue for the lifetime of a permanently incapacitated child.

Income support

The Domiciliary Care Allowance is a monthly means-tested allowance paid by the Department of Social Protection to the carer of a child who is aged under age 16 who has a severe disability and who meets the conditions. You may get this payment if the child is in part-time respite care. This payment was formerly paid by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

When your child reaches the age of 16 they may be entitled to Disability Allowance. Any means that the child has in their own right will be taken into account.

If your child takes up employment, it may affect their Disability Allowance. For more information about this, see Disability payments and work.

Transport Costs

The HSE may pay a Motorised Transport Grant to help buy or adapt a car for a person over age 17 with a severe disability who needs it for work. It may also be payable in exceptional circumstances if you live in a remote area and your child cannot use public transport. Again, if your child is aged over 16 years, they may be eligible for a Mobility Allowance.

On 26 February 2013, the Department of Health announced that the Motorised Transport Grant and the Mobility Allowance schemes were closed to new applicants. An alternative scheme is being devised to replace it in four months time. Applications already received by the HSE before the announcement will be processed. If found to be qualified after their assessment, the applicants will be paid the grant.

There is a range of tax reliefs available for the buying and use of vehicles under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme.

Adapting a home

You may qualify for the Housing Adaptation Grant if you need to adapt your house for your child's needs. You should apply to your local authority.

Health services

Your child’s entitlement to health services depends on your family’s circumstances. If your family is not entitled to a medical card or GP Visit Card, your child may get an individual medical card if they have a particular medical expenses, or else may be entitled to the following:

  • In-patient or out-patient short-stay charges are not levied if your child is suffering from a one of a number of specific long-term conditions or if referred from child health services or school health services
  • Free prescribed drugs and medicines for specific long-term conditions
  • Various health services for people with disabilities
  • Various community care services.

In Budget 2014 it was announced that free GP care will be introduced during 2014 for all children aged 5 years and under.

Long-stay charges

If your child is in residential care and aged over 18, they may be required to pay long-stay care charges.

Education

Children with disabilities may have special educational needs and they are entitled to a response to those needs. The Education for Persons with Special Needs Act 2004 sets out the provisions for those with special educational needs. Under the Act each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan. However there is currently no date for the implementation of the assessment of need and individual education plans.

The HSE has responsibility for providing services for children before they go to school. There is no right to pre-school education as such. The HSE may provide psychological assessment and speech and language therapy for your child. The National Council for Special Education has responsibility for the provision of special needs assistance at primary and post-primary level.

Children with special needs may be educated in mainstream primary schools with the help of resource teachers and special needs assistants. There are also a number of special classes in mainstream schools and a number of special schools. Special transport arrangements, including escorts and safety harnesses are available for children with special needs.

Home tuition may be provided for children who are unable to go to school on a regular basis because of a serious medical problem, to children who are waiting for a suitable school place and to provide early intervention for pre-school children with autism.

The State Examinations Commission makes special arrangements for children with disabilities sitting the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations.

There are various support arrangements for students with disabilities in third-level education.

Work and training

People with disabilities may access two types of training:
  • Rehabilitative training: provided by the HSE or by specialist agencies on its behalf and
  • Vocational training: provided by FÁS or by specialist agencies under contract with FÁS

Read more about rehabilitation and training services for people with disabilities

Making decisions

The rights of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children are the same whether or not those children have disabilities. This means that, in general, parents have no right to make decisions on behalf of their children once they reach 18. Children under 18 have the right to make specific decisions, for example, they may validly give consent to medical treatment from the age of 16 and they may legally engage in sexual activities from age 17.

In practice, parents of children with intellectual disabilities frequently make decisions on behalf of their adult children but they do not have the legal right to do so.

Managing money

Your child may not be capable of managing money. If they are getting the Disability Allowance, you may be the agent appointed by the Department of Social Protection to deal with the money. If this is the case, you have the same responsibilities as all other agents. The money belongs to your child and you must use it for their benefit. If your child has substantial money or assets, it is likely that they will be made a Ward of Court.

Consent to medical treatment

If your child is capable of making decisions, then they may validly consent to medical treatment from the age of 16. If they are not capable of making decisions, it seems that you are entitled to make these decisions until age 18. After that, you have no right to make decisions on behalf of your child.

Sexual relationships

Sexual relationships between consenting people who are each over the age of 17, whether those relationships are heterosexual or homosexual, are generally legal. Some people with intellectual disabilities may not have the capacity to consent to a sexual relationship.

The criminal law provides that it may be unlawful to engage in sexual activities with a person with a learning disability even if that person consents. It is a criminal offence to have or attempt to have sexual intercourse with a “mentally impaired person” unless married to that person.

Planning for the future

Parents of children with disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities are often concerned about how to ensure that their children are financially secure and that they will not be exploited. The mechanisms available are rather complex and not always effective. You may arrange to have your child made a Ward of Court.

Most parents of people with disabilities want to try to ensure that their children will be adequately cared for after their own deaths. You should get legal advice if you want to make special provisions for a child with a disability in your will and also ensure that they retain entitlement to benefits such as the Disability Allowance and medical card.

You may appoint a guardian in your will. This however only has effect if your child is under 18 when you die. It is not possible to appoint a guardian for an adult child.

Page updated: 16 October 2013

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Related Documents

  • Children and rights in Ireland
    This document gives information on a child's rights in different areas, such as, education, employment, travel, recreation, health and relationships.
  • Child health services
    The general entitlement of children to health services in Ireland and the specific services available.
  • Special needs education
    This document describes the special arrangements for the education of children with special educational needs

Contact Us

If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.