Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Reappointment of the Ombudsman for Children: Motion
I am happy to support the reappointment of Dr. Niall Muldoon and I commend him on his work. Precisely because of the nature of his work and the very good job he and his team have done in reporting our failure to vindicate fully the rights of children and young people under 18, I am sure that he would want us to take this opportunity to highlight some of the issues that his reports have covered. It is important to highlight the failure of this State to vindicate the rights of children and young people, despite the regular lip service that is paid on that front.
One key area where we are failing young people and children is in the area of housing. It is to the great shame of this State that, taking the figure for 27 December 2020, there were 2,327 children who were homeless and in emergency accommodation. This is an absolutely shameful failure to vindicate the rights of children and it will mark many of them for life in terms of the damage it does. That crisis continues despite much hand-wringing about it and commitments to address it.
Beyond those who are in emergency accommodation, there are also the hidden homeless living in overcrowded conditions. To give a sample of our failure to vindicate their rights, I will refer to just two cases out of the many that I am dealing with at this time. A single mother who contacted me has three boys, one of them 15 years old, one a baby and the other a toddler. That family is only entitled to a two-bedroom housing provision because all of the children are boys. It is just unbelievable. We are rationing housing to the detriment of those children and their rights are, in my opinion, being breached. Another example is Zoe - she said it was okay to use her first name - who has three children: a 13-year-old daughter and two sons aged seven and nine. She has been on the housing list for 13 years and is living with her parents, both of whom have immunity issues and are susceptible to Covid. The six of them are living in a three-bedroom house. Zoe and her daughter share a bed and that daughter has, at the age of 13, never had a bed of her own. It is absolutely shameful. The father and mother are working at home in the current Covid situation and Zoe is trying to homeschool the children. It is shameful. Those two examples are only a snapshot of the cases that have been brought to my attention. Zoe applied for a transfer but was refused because she does not have a consultant's letter. Apparently, she needs a letter confirming what any person just looking at her case can see. One does not need to be a medical consultant to know that those children are being failed badly. For a child not to have her own bed for 13 years is, frankly, beyond belief.
Then there are children with disabilities and special needs. Under law, parents of such children are required to get an assessment of needs. The HSE must acknowledge the written application for an assessment of needs within 14 days and an assessment must commence within three months and be completed within six months. A total of 91% of the children assessed are not assessed within the statutory time limit. This is a breach of the most basic rights of the vast majority of these most vulnerable children. Even when the assessment is done and recommendations are made, for example, they might be referred to child and adolescent mental health services, they can be waiting five to ten years to get the services that are recommended. What does all the talk of early intervention mean when some of our most vulnerable children are waiting five or ten years for critical interventions?
My final point concerns the more general situation faced by young people, teenagers and schoolgoers at this time. My heart goes out to them in the situation they are in. It highlights precisely how, at the time when they are most in need of mental health and other supports, we are failing them badly and at many levels. Children are in overcrowded classrooms where they cannot get the sort of individual attention they need in a situation where schooling is difficult or impossible. There is the stress being put on leaving certificate students because of the uncertainty about the examinations and because we ration access to higher level education instead of giving everybody the opportunity to avail of the education they want. These are just some of the issues. I think Dr. Muldoon will be glad they were raised.