Sunday 25 August 2019

Report points to potential gaps in service provision for children in Cork

A new report has pointed to potential gaps in service provision for children and young people in Cork.

That's according to the Children's Rights Alliance, which published the first annual report of its Helpline and Legal Advice Clinics this week.

The helpline and legal-advice clinics are part of the 'Access to Justice Initiative', which aims to ensure all children have access to free legal information and advice when they need it, regardless of their location, status or situation in Ireland.

"Our 'Access to Justice' service helps children, young people and their families in Cork and around Ireland through our helpline and legal-advice clinics. It also identifies the areas in which families need further support such as disability, education, child protection, children in care, housing and homelessness," said Children's Rights Alliance Chief Executive Tanya Ward.

"What this year's report points to are potentially significant problems within the most pivotal systems in our society: our legal system, our education system, our healthcare system. We are hearing from children, young people and parents who are struggling to navigate them."

Key findings in the report relate to family law:

• 15 per cent of calls received by children and young people were about family law issues.

• Over a quarter of all queries from parents and guardians were on family law issues (27 per cent).

"Young people are being pushed out of a family-law system that is crying out for reform," Ms Ward feels. "The majority of calls we received on the helpline related to family law. We have heard from young people worried that their voice was not being heard in family-law proceedings.

"This was echoed by parents, who are often unaware of their child's rights in access disputes.

"We have heard from both children and parents about the stress and anxiety access visits can cause when the child does not want to visit the other parent. We need courts that are family-friendly to provide necessary information and guidance for Cork families going through these proceedings."

Addressing education and disability, key findings in the report included:

• Education was the top issue being addressed at the Children's Rights Alliance legal advice clinics (27 per cent of clinics)

• Recurring trends include disputes with schools and the difficulty securing places in appropriate schools.

"In the area of disability, we have heard from many parents in a situation where their child has been put on reduced hours in school," said Ms Ward. "We are seeing further evidence of this through the work of our members.

"The emerging prevalence of these issues in accessing equality and quality in education is a great concern to us in the Alliance. As a country that prides itself on its education system, we need to do better.

"Parents in Cork do not know where or who to go to when they face issues like these. A lot of the time they are coming to us because they have failed to get a solution or support to take action elsewhere."

Other key findings from the report include:

• Children as young as nine have contacted the Helpline

• Twenty per cent of queries from children and young people related to immigration.

• Over 10 per cent of calls relate to child protection. These have included issues parents have with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and how they have handled their case.

"This Report is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues facing children, young people and their parents," added Ms Ward. "We will continue to document emerging trends and areas of concern, and fill the gap in service provision providing free legal advice specifically on children's rights through our legal-advice clinics. However, it is clear that in the areas of family law, child protection, education and disability, a lot more needs to be done to ensure that these systems serve the young people coming to them often at very vulnerable points of their lives."