Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ireland can be a world leader on children’s rights, says watchdog

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE referendum on children's rights gives Ireland the chance to be a leader on the issue worldwide, a campaigner has claimed.

Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan said she supports the wording to change the constitution but warned that its implementation is a long-term goal.

"I don't want people to think the constitution is the end," she said. "I want people to think it's the beginning.

"If you embed those principles in the constitution and see it as the gold standard so that every time there is a piece of legislation or policy written it will have those principles in it.

"It's a long-term goal, it will take a good while to get that type of change."

Ms Logan said she started calling for constitutional change from her first year in office in 2004.

"Six thousand complaints later and eight years later I'm still convinced of that if we embed some of the principles in the constitution, the likelihood over time is that we will see a new culture in Ireland in terms of the way children and families are treated," she added.

Almost 1,500 complaints were lodged with her office last year, a 22pc rise on 2010.

Ms Logan said unlike previous years, there has been a significant shift in how public bodies responded to her recommendations with little resistance.

Changes in personnel at the top of education, health and justice have resulted in a more co-operative response to her office.

However, Ms Logan criticised public bodies for using the recession as an easy excuse for not providing proper services, adding that many of the cases are not related to money.

Industrial relation issues and the stock answer of 'insufficient resources' often inhibited how services were provided to children and families, she revealed.

But many cases reveal problems with communication.

"We continue to see more concern for the system then for the best interest of the child and family," Ms Logan said.

"Advancing children's rights is about putting in place the necessary conditions to allow children and their families to live with dignity and respect."

Nearly half of all complaints to the office related to education issues, including transport, the actions of a teacher or principal and special needs resources.

Concerns over health included decisions about a child in care and adequate access to HSE services.

Figures in the annual report also showed parents continued to be the principal advocates for their children, submitting 76pc of all complaints.

Ms Logan said her office tried to select cases that will deliver systemic change.

She expressed serious concerns today about the welfare of young people in St Patrick's Institution.

A group of about 25-30 teenagers of age 17 remain in the institution which shares grounds with Mountjoy.

Describing it as an "awful prison" Ms Logan said it was an inappropriate environment - pointing out the UN has criticised Ireland for its continued incarceration of children.

"The young people themselves have expressed concern for their safety there," she said.

Another high-profile case taken on by her office this year involved a 16-year-old who was refused a place in school because she was pregnant, and then a single mother.

Ms Logan said as a result of their work, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn committed to bringing forward firm and clear guidelines in relation to admissions policies.

"While the number of complaints are increasing, we are trying to select cases that will deliver change for more children so an individual case can be very powerful in delivering what is termed systemic change," she added.

Press Association

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