Northern Ireland news

'I fear my autistic son (8) will kill me'

Julie McVeigh, pictured in the bedroom of her son Jack (8) with his favourite tractor. Ms McVeigh is desperately trying to get a respite placement for her son who has become increasingly violent. Picture Mal McCann
Seanín Graham

A MOTHER who fears her autistic eight-year-old son could kill due to extreme violent behaviour has taken legal action against a health trust over after its handling of his care.

Julie McVeigh (42), a former nurse from Dromara, Co Down, said she has been “left in limbo” since his specialist respite placement was withdrawn by the South Eastern trust last month.

Jack, who has a diagnosis of autism as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has tried to stab and strangle his mother. He also started to harm himself.

Police have been called to the family home but say they can do nothing because of his age and vulnerability.

“There’s hardly a wall or door in my house that doesn’t have a hole in it and I frequently have black eyes,” Ms McVeigh said.

“Jack has pulled a knife to me and also put a belt around my neck as I was driving. His anxiety levels are very high and the violence has escalated since the summer. I am petrified of him.

“He has started self-harming and I really do believe we are getting to a situation where a potential fatality could happen. Jack needs proper help. I’ve been left in limbo with a child who is going to kill someone or himself. As a family, we are falling apart. I have no option but to go down the legal route.”

The South Eastern trust has confirmed to The Irish News it is “actively engaging with this family”, adding that its multi-disciplinary team is “assessing and supporting them to address the needs of the child” as well as the “ongoing safety of the family”.

However, earlier this week it emerged that a health professional told Ms McVeigh they were looking at the possibility of placing Jack in an adolescent psychiatric hospital inpatient unit – a move his mother described as “shocking” and “completely inappropriate”.

Julie McVeigh pictured in her Co Down home. Picture by Mal McCann

The mother-of-five is a cardiac nurse who worked for the trust but gave up her job to care for Jack, who is her youngest child and attends Brookfield special needs school in Craigavon.

She was previously told that a place had been identified in a children’s residential facility, Lindsay House in Dunmurry, which provides dedicated support for people with learning disabilities.

“At the beginning of October we were getting ready to have Jack go to Lindsay House where he was to spend four nights and then three nights at home. An emergency place was made available,” she said.

“In August he told me he was going to kill me. That’s when I rang the police. They came out to the house and were lovely but they said there was no secure unit for an eight-year-old child.

“A meeting took place a day before he was due to start the new placement in October between different health professionals and those from his school – as his hours have been greatly reduced due to his behaviour. At the meeting a psychologist disputed his diagnosis of a learning disability, even though he had been deemed to have a learning disability when he was statemented at the age of four.

“As a result, the respite place was withdrawn. We were devastated.”

Ms McVeigh praised the work of a trust social worker who had “tried everything” to help her but said she was appalled by a proposal to place Jack in an adolescent psychiatric unit.

“There is no way I could place Jack in a unit with 15 and 16-year-olds who are also vulnerable. That is not going to happen,” she said.

“Jack needs a proper psychiatric outpatient assessment and specialist support.

“I want my child to have quality of life. Life is a constant struggle for him now.”

When asked by The Irish News about the suitability of the placement, a trust spokeswoman said: “The multi-disciplinary team in the South Eastern trust are working together to assess the best placement for the child.”

Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who is representing Ms McVeigh and is taking legal action against the trust and the Education Authority, said the case highlighted the “very real gaps” for care of children with multiple and complex needs.

“Our client has been let down at every turn by the trust and the education system,” she said.

“If these serious issues are not dealt with at an early stage and families are not supported, harm is what follows which is in some cases inreversible to a child in those crucial formative years.”

A spokeswoman for the Education Authority said it could not comment on individual cases but were “committed to working with parents, guardians and schools to ensure children’s assessed needs are met in the best interests of each child”.


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