A WEXFORD mother was told by the HSE to call the gardai to take her austic teenaged son into custody if he had a meltdown over a weekend when its staff were off duty.
Jane Johnstone, from Balwinstown, said she was threatened that her children would be put into foster care when she challenged the HSE advice and was told she could be referred to Tusla.
'It's not appropriate to put a child in a cell,' Ms Johnstone told this newspaper.
Ms Johnstone, whose husband Rod passed away three years ago, is a mother of two autistic children, Evan, aged 17, and Daniel, aged 13, and a daughter Ciara.
Her plight was revealed by Deputy Mick Wallace to whom she appealed for help after long-running issues with the HSE when she asked for respite care for Evan, 17, who is severely autistic and has a visual impairment.
Reading from a e-mail in the Dail during Leader's Questions last week, Deputy Wallace quoted Ms Johnstone as saying her older son is 'seen and treated as an inconvenience and a problem to our health service because he is different and difference comes at a cost'.
'I've been threatened with foster care, advised to call the gardai if Evan has a meltdown because the HSE failed to give him the support he needs and when I took issue with these threats, I've been told I could be referred to Tusla,' she wrote in the e-mail.
Addressing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Deputy Wallace asked: 'When the HSE encourages a parent to call gardai to take an autistic teenager into custody who might develop behavioural problems at a time when the HSE has shut down for the weekend, does that sound as if it might maximise the potential of that child?'
The Taoiseach responded that he was not in a position to comment on individual cases, however, he would examine the information if it was passed on to him.
The Dáil heard that Evan was diagnosed with severe autism aged three. 'He has significant mobility issues and due to a degenerative eye condition he also has significant visual impairment.'
Ms Johnstone told this newspaper that she was satisfied with the Taoiseach's response 'as long as he follows through'.
'This isn't the first time that I have had to go into the public domain.. at the end of the day all we want to be is to be part of the community and part of society. My boys have the same hopes and ambitions as any other boys, but they need a lot of care and support,' she said.
Ms Johnstone said the suggestion of calling the gardai was completely unacceptable. 'The gardai have no training in looking after a 17 year old with an intellectual disability,' she said, suggesting a solultion of having trained service providers available at any time when their were major issues to look after a child 'until the heat goes out of the situation'.
'It's not appropriate to put a child in a cell,' she said. Ms Johnstone said another hurdle lay ahead of her family. When Evan turns 18 next May, there is no natural transition from child to adult respite services and he would have to go back on to a waiting list. 'It's a challenging life. The boys are on a very tight string and if you start pulling that string, the worry is what will happen to us?'