Children's Ombudsman calls for referendum before end of year

Children's Ombudsman calls for referendum before end of year

Ireland's leading children's watchdog called today for constitutional reform this year to improve children's rights.

Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan said urgent change was needed to provide more support for children in care and for improved access to healthcare.

She said gaps in law, policy and practice mean some children remain vulnerable and are not receiving the full support of the State.

Ms Logan said: "This report covers 2009, a year when, through the Ryan and Murphy reports, both the scale of child abuse and the culture of impunity was realised for the first time by many.

"These reports revealed that it is easier to violate the rights of people who are not socially powerful, something that continues to this day."

"I remain convinced that constitutional change is required to ensure that any new legislation puts the interests of children first."

The Ombudsman's annual report for last year also revealed most complaints about the health sector involved the adequacy of Health Service Executive services, decisions regarding children in care and child protection.

In education the biggest issues were linked to special needs allocation, school transport, how boards of management handle complaints and how inappropriate behaviour towards children was dealt with.

Housing issues were mostly about access or suitability of local authority housing.

Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael children's spokesman, said: "These concerns are sadly familiar as they reflect many of the issues we are aware of from information that has been uncovered on the deaths of children in care."

Mr Flanagan accused the government of neglecting children to avoid the electorate and called for a date for a referendum on children's rights.

"The HSE's oversight of the child care and protection area seems to be beset by a culture of secrecy that does not serve the best interests of the child," he said.

"They should also set a date for the Children's Rights Referendum instead of delaying it indefinitely for their own political reasons."

The Ombudsman received 912 complaints during 2009, an increase of 13% on the previous year.

It said that 74% of complaints were made by parents and extended family and that most children who contacted the office were in care. Professionals, including teachers and social workers, made 12% of complaints.

Almost half of complaints related to healthcare; 38% education; 7% justice and 4% housing and planning.

Ms Logan said she has been calling for constitutional reform since taking hold of the office in 2004.

"As is evident from complaints contained in the 2009 annual report, children continue to need an independent mechanism of redress and will continue to do so in this state for some considerable time," she said.

The Ombudsman said securing access to children in St Patrick's Institution, hostels and in care remained a priority for her office and that she hoped to reduce the time it takes to carry out an investigation affecting a child.

At present Ms Logan may be allowed access to young offenders but not those being held in the youth wing at Mountjoy Prison.

It also highlighted concerns over children's separation from and access to siblings and the lack of aftercare support for young people leaving care.

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