A lost generation?
In a rush for votes, politicians strive to look after the middle classes and elderly first. So be it, writes Linda Daly, but don't let it be to the detriment of a massive part of our society and its future - our children
WHEN the present government leaves office, its record may well be one clouded by the water-meter controversy. But political historians who look back at the Fine Gael/Labour Government of 2011 shouldn't ignore what the Government has, or hasn't, done for the children of this generation.
The question will be asked whether if, amidst the battle to pay off the banks and improve our economy, the Government forgot the very children who will be doing the electing in the future. Because, on the face of things, it would appear that it has.
Irish children and their families are becoming more economically vulnerable, according to the latest Growing Up in Ireland study, released last week.
The study, which tracks almost 20,000 children born in 1998 and 2008, has detailed the "dramatic" increase in financial hardship among families, and the effect that hardship has on children.
One in four children and their families are experiencing economic vulnerability. Young children and teens are seeing their parents grapple with joblessness and financial stress on a daily basis. Worryingly, the study found that almost one in three families (29-30pc) lacks one or more basic goods or services.
The figures will come as no surprise to the families living the day-to-day nightmare of economic instability. In May, Mothers & Babies highlighted the issue of child poverty and homelessness in Ireland, with Focus Ireland at the time reporting "an explosion in family homelessness" since the start of 2014, and Barnardos chief Fergus Finlay rightly calling the failure to tackle child poverty a "scandal".
The Government, to its credit, has taken some steps to safeguard the children of this country with the creation of Tusla, the children and family agency, and the publication of the Children First Bill, which forms part of a suite of child protection legislation. The free GP care for under sixes was broadly welcomed by parents in last year's Budget, but this has been delayed, indefinitely it would seem. The Family Leave Bill, due to be published in the spring, is long overdue.
But in other areas the Government has failed miserably. When it comes to childcare supports for working families, the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme falls way short of what supports should be available for working parents in this country.
In her letter to the Irish Independent last month, mum-of-two Donna Hartnett captured the mood and hearts of a nation when she spoke of "dragging" her children out of the bed at 6.30am each morning, and ending the day "in a house filled with children's tears of frustration and confusion".
Start Strong, a coalition of organisations and individuals seeking to advance children's early care and education in Ireland, has pointed out that the Government invests "very little in our children".
The OECD recommends spending 1pc of GDP on childcare services. At present, Ireland invests a woeful 0.2pc.
International studies have placed Ireland well down the league table of early care and educational initiatives. For example, in the 2012 Starting Well Index, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Ireland came 18th for quality, affordability and accessibility of early childhood education services.
Start Strong has urged the Government to adopt the Scandinavian model of subsidised childcare. In Denmark, parents pay no more than 25pc of the cost of day care.
There are some excellent early learning schemes in place such as the one provided by the National College of Ireland's Early Learning Initiative. It provides classes and programmes to people from disadvantaged communities in Dublin. The government needs to look at rolling these out nationwide.
There is another worrying trend that this Government has yet to address to safeguard our children. Last week, yet another inquest was held into the death of a child from a window fall. Toddler Andrea Gazsiova died when she fell from the fourth storey window of her family's apartment.
Dublin Coroner's Court heard that the window she fell from had a faulty handle and could not be closed fully. Andrea, unfortunately, is just one of a number of children who have fallen to their deaths from windows over the past two years.
An academic article published in the Irish Medical Journal in February found that between January 2010 and September 2012, 45 children were treated in Temple Street Hospital after falling from windows. Almost three quarters of these involved children younger than five years of age.
Professor Alf Nicholson of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and Children's University Hospital, Temple Street, and co-author of the report, called for targeted prevention strategies in Ireland. His call has been echoed by Dublin City coroner Brian Farrell, who has written to various bodies to suggest something be done, and Emmanuele and Kamil Kus, who have also had the horrific experience of losing a child after a window fall. Last December they pleaded in these pages for something to be done to improve window safety in Ireland.
It wouldn't be too large an investment to implement fall-prevention strategies here. Prevention strategies have been implemented in other countries around the world with great success, and have included the provision of free window guards and obligations on property owners to provide window guards.
But most, if not all, of the children who have died in the past few years have been children of foreign parents, and their parents don't elect a government, and their stories don't cause protests on our streets. Yet, more children will die or be seriously injured if nothing is done.
The question is, is the Government merely paying lip service to children's needs, or does it want to make meaningful change and impact positively on the lives of children? And, in some cases, actually save those lives.