A drastic change is needed to radically overhaul child welfare and protection systems, a leading charity warned today.
Barnardos demanded disadvantaged children were protected from further cuts during the economic crisis.
It also called for the incoming Government to set up a new Department of Social Care which would be accountable for services at Cabinet level.
Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy, said the last Budget pushed children and families already living on the breadline to the brink.
"We know that there are children going hungry in Ireland," she said.
"We know that there are families living in homes without heat or light.
"We know that families reliant on social welfare and low incomes are getting into debt with moneylenders that they can never hope to get out of."
Launching Barnardos' children's manifesto and priority issues for Election 2011, chief executive Fergus Finlay said savings must not be made at the expense of children's childhoods and futures.
He maintained reform was urgently needed to overhaul an overstretched and under resourced care and protection service for children at risk of harm.
"It is clear to anyone working with children and families in need of welfare and protection services that major reform of the systems in place is long overdue," said Mr Finlay.
"We need to ensure that social care services are accountable at the highest level of Government.
"Ireland is coming down with policies in relation to children, what we need is to see those policies put into practice in a consistent way across the country.
"We need to ensure that services are independently assessed to introduce transparency into a system that has been notoriously opaque."