The Office of the Ombudsman for Children said it experienced “considerable delays” when handling complaints relating to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
“We have experienced considerable delays in 2015 for some cases with Tusla,” said Nuala Ward, director of investigations for the ombudsman.
“We seek information from Tusla as part of our process in order to make a decision about how we proceed in relation to a complaint received [in relation to Tusla].
“But when we get delays it’s frustrating for the children, for the families, and it’s frustrating for us because we really wish to resolve matters quickly for children.”
The Children’s Ombudsman was set up in 2004 with two purposes: To look into complaints made either by or on behalf of children, and to protect the rights of people in Ireland under the age of 18.
The matter with Tusla was highlighted at the launch of the ombudsman’s 2015 report in Dublin yesterday.
“We have found on a number of cases we’ve had no interaction [with Tusla] whatsoever and they’ve delayed and delayed; we’re talking about six months in some cases and longer,” said Niall Muldoon, the ombudsman. “We’re certainly not going to countenance that sort of situation.”
Ms Ward acknowledged the limited resources of Tusla.
“We are very mindful that Tusla has limited resources and the resources they have are dedicated to frontline services, but nevertheless as it matures and grows it should dedicate time to ensure it has a good complaint handling service,” she said.
A spokesperson for Tusla acknowledged the delays and said new procedures are in place.
“With respect to comments in relation to complaints handled by Tusla, and communication with the [ombudsman], Tusla regularly engages with the [ombudsman], however, we are aware of occasions where delays have occurred due to a range of factors, including the complexity of cases,” said the spokesperson.
In relation to the report in general, the office received 1,639 complaints in 2015, an 8% increase on 2014 figures.
The majority of complaints were by parents. Some 3% of them did arise from children themselves.
On the whole, the ombudsman’s office was contacted by a parent, sibling, and/or an extended family member in 81% of complaints.
Almost half of complaints were in relation to education. Dublin, followed by Cork, was the biggest source of complaints to the office.
Dr Muldoon said 45% of complaints related to education matters and that this figure proved that “education is not just about the four walls of the school”.
Family support, care, and protection services made up 25% of complaints and 14% related to complaints about health services.
In terms of emerging issues, Ms Ward said the office is dealing with growing complaints in relation to the suitability of housing provided for homeless families.
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) investigated a complaint it received in relation to the psychiatric support provided at Oberstown, the children’s detention campus.
The complainant raised concerns about the self-harming behaviour of James (not his real name) who was living in Oberstown. The complainant also asserted that there was a lack of psychiatric support and protection in place for James at the centre.
They added that the staff were not given enough training or support to deal with the mental health needs of the young people living there.
The OCO contacted Oberstown for an assessment of James’s mental health needs and measures being taken. The office also met with James and staff.
This exercise showed that James had received a psychiatric assessment in Oberstown as well as in hospital following admissions to an emergency department.
It was decided he had behavioural challenges but that he did not have a psychiatric condition.
During the OCO’s preliminary examination, it was discovered that no medical records from the hospital were held in James’s medical file at Oberstown.
As a result, Oberstown sought the hospital’s medical assessment and records of James.
Furthermore, Oberstown brought in a practice to ensure that the clinical nurse manager sources relevant medical files held externally.
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) received a number of complaints in 2015 in relation to the placement of children with mental health challenges in inappropriate adult units.
One such complaint centres on Cáit, aged 15, who had been admitted to an emergency department following a second attempted suicide.
Her mother Rita made the complaint to the OCO.
Cáit was transferred to an adult psychiatric ward in the hospital, as a place was sought in an adolescent unit.
However, by the time her mother had lodged a complaint with the OCO, no such place had materialised.
Cáit spent two weeks in the adult ward and her mother argued that this placed her at a greater risk and was not in her best interests.
“The first time I attempted suicide I think my real message was ‘help me’. But there was no effective help for me. A&E was a nightmare. The adult unit was like prison,” said Cáit.
“The only exercise available was a treadmill. It was in a freezing cold room. I used it for a while out of boredom but then I just couldn’t. It seemed wrong anyway. I had an eating disorder and I lost three kilos on the treadmill.”
The OCO report said that these complaints highlight the difficulties nationally and regionally in regard to children accessing appropriate mental health placements and supports.
Housing for a homeless family was one of the complaints addressed by the Ombudsman.
Rose, a mother of two, contacted the office in May 2014.
Her complaint was in relation to the provision of housing by her local authority and how it addressed her homelessness.
The initial complaint centred on the lack of suitable accommodation provided for her and her two young children, Tracey and Keith.
The family had been living with Rose’s brothers but the local authority told her that she did not have permission to reside at the address.
At this time, the local authority did not provide her and her two children with alternative accommodation, and the three of them became homeless.
Rose said they were placed in unsuitable emergency accommodation.
They were granted housing priority but challenges were encountered when it came to processing their application.
“I don’t have my own bedroom,” said Tracey. “We have bunk beds. I have my teddies.
“It’s freezing. Sometimes in the mornings we get our blankets and pillows and move into mammy’s bed. But we’re never late for school.
“This isn’t a normal house because we’re not allowed bring friends here. We’re not allowed outside when other people are out there.
“I’ve never had a sleepover with friends since we came here.”
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