Organisations representing children with special educational needs have welcomed news that the Health Service Executive is making progress on matching children with significant needs with home-based SNA support. 

HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O' Connor said they have identified 400 children who have significant health needs and challenging behaviours and disabilities and that Special Needs Assistants are being deployed to support them. 

It is understood more than 100 children have been allocated SNA support in recent days under the scheme. 

The programme to redeploy school Special Needs Assistants to work with families via the HSE was announced nine weeks ago.

However, it ran into a number of delays including delays around completing Garda vetting.

The trade union representing SNAs, Fórsa, also raised concerns. 

The HSE said it has now vetted around 4000 SNAs and they are being matched with children to provide supports this month. 

It has also announced that limited face-to-face interaction will be allowed, with children able to have direct sessions with SNAs and other therapists. 

Latest coronavirus stories

The scheme envisages children being matched with SNAs that they are familiar with where that is possible. 

Lorraine Dempsey of Inclusion Ireland welcomed the development.

She said the organisation had been disappointed by the delays and the experience of children with intellectual disabilities had been very patchy and ad hoc, and very different depending on the school the child attended. 

Ms Dempsey said while some schools had embraced remote contact between SNAs and children, others banned it citing unfounded GDPR concerns. 

She said the matching of SNAs with children would provide much needed respite for families and would help children. 

"We are not talking about rocket science", she said, "an SNA could read a child a picture story to help them understand why things are different now. Or they might do a sensory programme, touching things." 

Separately, disability organisations were briefed yesterday on HSE plans to run a respite programme for children with significant disabilities this summer. 

The HSE usually provides respite to around 600 such children during the summer months.

The details of this year's scheme have yet to be finalised and may depend on the willingness of SNAs to be employed on the programme over the summer, and the willingness of special schools to allow their premises to be used. 

CEO of autism charity AsIAM Adam Harris said it was "positive to see a small number of young people with disabilities begin to see a return to vital support in their lives".