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Irish children living are in ‘low-level melancholy’ in lockdown, ombudsman warns


Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon.

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon.

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon.

Irish children in lockdown are living in a “low-level melancholy” with a lack of joy in their lives, according to the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon.

Reflecting ahead of the one-year anniversary of school closures amid lockdown this Friday, March 12, he said youngsters have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic when it comes to their mental health.

“They have no places to explore, no places to find the joy like they would have had before, no socialisation, it’s all online. It’s a really difficult thing,” he said.

There are now 2,000 children waiting for appointments for CAHMS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service) while there’s 10,000 waiting for primary-care Psychology services, most of them children.

There has also been a decrease in access to in-patient units in mental health services and an increase in disorders so there’s a “clear and present danger for our children there.”

Dr Muldoon also highlighted his concerns about the digital divide, with a survey by the National Parents Council finding that only 37pc of primary school children have their own device while 46pc don’t have a quiet space to learn.

A further 55pc need an adult there to do remote learning.

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Speaking as part of the Children’s Futures campaign, Dr Muldoon believes the pandemic has created new opportunities to change things and take something positive from the Covid crisis.

“We could be in a position to create build something new and create something different,” he said.

“We could look back on this and go, ‘That was a terrible time, we lost over 4,300 people but we did change our society as a result of this’.”

He is calling on the Government to implement a ‘Covid dividend’ for children that has three main objectives.

He wants to see the living wage raised for families in poverty up to €12.30 an hour in addition to the end of Direct Provision and homelessness as well as extra support to Deis communities.

Although the ERSI warns that 13pc of children could be living in poverty next year, he feels there is cause for optimism for the future. People have collectively saved €11bn during the pandemic amid predictions that the economy will bounce back and it’s never been a cheaper time to borrow.

It took just three weeks to create the PUP which was a “fantastic innovation” and he said the Government needs to look towards creating a stable future for children with a five-year plan in mind.

“If you take away the threat of Covid and financial insecurity and poverty and cold and hunger, you will allow children to find the joy in finding out,” said Dr Muldoon.

“They will strive to use their natural curiosity to be as good as they can be, to be who they should be in the future.”

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