Sunday 18 February 2018

Ombudsman for children urges more government oversight for schools

Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon. Picture Jason Clarke Photography.
Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon. Picture Jason Clarke Photography.

The Ombudsman for Children has called on the Government to make significant changes to promote the rights of young people after taking in record numbers of complaints last year.

The office dealt with 1,639 complaints last year prompting ombudsman Niall Muldoon to warn ministers they have a long way to go to ensuring children's rights are fully implemented.

He highlighted that issues around education make up almost half his work and claimed that schools are not put under sufficient scrutiny and oversight

"It is my view that the autonomy afforded to Irish schools means that the Government has not been able to exercise the necessary responsibility and oversight," Mr Muldoon said.

"It is time to recalibrate the balance between the autonomy of schools and the oversight by Government to advance and protect children's rights within the education system."

The ombudsman said there was an 8% increase in complaints last year.

The practice of detaining young offenders aged 17 in Wheatfield Prison in Dublin last year was also criticised as the Oberstown detention facility had not been fully operational.

While 45% involved education, a quarter related to family support, care and protection, with child protection the most often cited issue.

Mr Muldoon warned his office was faced with repeated and significant delays by Tusla: the Child and Family Agency.

"We raised this issue with Tusla and intend to monitor it closely, as it is unfair to children and others that come to us with their complaint," he said.

Some 14% of complaints related to the health sector, including issues around waiting lists for operations, mental health services, speech and language therapy, psychology and getting access to services for children, especially those with disabilities.

Mr Muldoon also criticised the Government for not allowing asylum-seeking children access to his office.

"In 2015 an Oireachtas working group on protection processes agreed with our view and recommended that the remit of the OCO be extended. This still has not taken place," he said.

Mr Muldoon added: "Children's rights in Ireland is an unfinished project. I will continue with my team to liaise with all departments and public organisations, to work towards an Ireland where all children and young people are actively heard and respected, so that they can experience safe, fulfilling and happy everyday lives."

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