Saturday 24 February 2018

Rights of homeless children with disabilities 'not always prioritised' - Ombudsman for Children

Stock image Photo: Getty
Stock image Photo: Getty

Kathy Armstrong

Homeless children with disabilities are not always prioritised by the State, the Ombudsman for Children's Office claimed today.

The body received almost 1700 new complaints last year, a figure which has soared by 47% since 2010.

The figures were contained in the Ombudsman for Children's Annual Report 2016, which was published today.

As homeless figures continue to rise, the body warned that there needs to be adequate accommodation provided for children.

The OCO's Director of Investigations Nuala Ward said: "Children with disabilities struggling in inappropriate housing were a feature of a number of complaints received in 2016.

"We found that children who are homeless with significant disabilities or medical needs were not always prioritised in the administration of housing policy.

Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography
Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography

"There is also an urgent need to ensure adequate provision of family friendly emergency accommodation so that normal family routines can be maintained as much as possible.

"We received concerning complaints about the adequacy of supports for children with disabilities and about the experience of some children with mental health issues trying to get help, especially at times of crisis.

"These young people are particularly vulnerable, and we are focusing specifically on promoting their rights as part of our Strategic Plan 2016-2018.”

Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon also said that the 1,682 new complaints they received last year highlight that children's rights aren't being respected here.

Dr Muldoon said: "Making a complaint does make a difference as public bodies generally respond positively to recommendations and improve their services to children and families as a result.

"However, the number of complaints suggests that public bodies and Government departments still have a long way to go towards fully respecting and promoting children’s rights in the work that they do. "

Read More: 'In 2017 for people to be queuing for food and nappies is appalling'- Brother Kevin says homeless crisis is a 'scandal'

He continued to say: "Education was a factor in the majority of the complaints received at 46%.

"While this is very much in line with previous years, it raises concerns about the quality of complaints handling in schools.

"If progressed, I expect the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016 to strengthen internal complaints procedures in schools.

"In 2016, 23% of the complaints received related to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla).

"Although Tusla has developed Meitheal, which identifies the needs and strengths of children, I remain concerned that they are still primarily operating as a crisis agency.

"There are clear inconsistencies within the agency both geographically and in terms of how issues are dealt with."

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Read More: Homeless families still in emergency accommodation despite looming deadline

As well as hearing complaints, the OCO raises awareness of children's rights and last year they launched Tune In, where young people are given the chance to learn their rights.

More than 2000 people from 21 counties accessed the service last year and helped outline some recommendations for Tune In.

One of the recommendations noted by members of Phibblestown Youth Participation Group was: "Mental health and internet safety are real challenges facing young people today.

"We feel it is important for all youth voices to be heard because we are the young people of Ireland, we have a right to be heard and it is important for the Office to hear things from our perspective."

Dr Muldoon said that looking after the rights and well-being of our children is vital.

He said: "I am more convinced than ever that children’s rights remain a crucial issue in Irish society.

"25 years after Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has still not been fully integrated into law. We must continue to work towards fully realising the rights of the young people of Ireland.”

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