By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Ireland is falling behind in its commitment to young people due to housing shortages and a lack of access to mental health services, the Children’s Ombudsman has said.
The annual Falling Behind report, published on Tuesday, outlines the measures that need to be taken to improve life for children in Ireland.
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office received 1,812 complaints last year, a third of which were about education, covering issues such as bullying, suspension, special education and access to school transport.
Most complaints (83 per cent) were made by a parent, with 5 per cent coming from an organisation and 2 per cent from children.
Children’s Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said his office is “extremely concerned” about the problem of sexualised bullying at school and is continuing to engage with schools about it.
The report outlined the case of a girl called Aisling, who experienced sexualised bullying and was forced to meet with the pupil in question, after which the abusive behaviour continued.
An investigation launched by the Ombudsman found the school was negligent by not engaging with Tusla and protecting Aisling’s rights, prompting the school to apologise to the girl and “extensively” review its policies.
Dr Muldoon said there has also been a spike in justice-related complaints – mostly to do with a delay in issuing passports to children as Ireland reopened after the pandemic last year.
He said work continues to ensure all children with special educational needs have a school place close to their home, and said “gaps” in Ireland’s adolescent mental health services are negatively affecting children.
The report also highlighted the Ombudsman’s engagement with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in February, when the UN body expressed serious concerns about “insufficient and inadequate” mental health services for children in Ireland.
Dr Muldoon said: “When you cope with those issues with the cost of living and homelessness crisis, it essentially means that there are tens of thousands of children in Ireland today who are struggling, are not getting the supports and services they require and, in some cases, whose basic needs such as shelter, food and safety are not being met.”
Dr Muldoon said state services and government departments being unable to work together remains one of the biggest challenges for children in Ireland.
He called on the government to use billions in surplus to help to prioritise children’s needs by addressing this.
“Whether that’s the HSE and Tusla discussing how to deal with a child whose in foster care with a disability; whether it’s Tusla and Gardai sharing information in regards to child sexual abuse allegations and helping the child not have to do too many interviews.
“Whether it’s the Department of Health supporting the Department of Education to bring in psychology and psychologists and therapists into school settings to reduce the waiting list and to help children at an early stage – those sorts of agencies need to start thinking about children first,” he said.
“We’re in a situation now where the government are talking about the possibility of a €10 to 15 billion surplus every year for the next four to five years.
“We have to prioritise children’s care and children’s rights so that we can catch up.
“So the challenge for me to the government is to take a look at that money and to see how you can change the system, which doesn’t cost money, but then invest properly in a way that really promotes children’s rights and security and rights into the future.”