The Government’s approach to child poverty has been severely criticised by the Children’s Ombudsman.
Niall Muldoon said that the Government’s target of reducing to 37,000 the number of children living in poverty by 2020 was still “unacceptably high”.
In his report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, he said the target represented an acceptance of a higher rate of consistent poverty among children than in the general population.
He said the Government’s plan for reducing poverty should be revised to take account of the larger number of children living in consistent poverty since 2011.
Consistent poverty is where people are unable to afford basic necessities such as new clothes, and foods like meat or fish. As they are on low incomes they cannot afford to heat their homes and go into debt to pay household bills.
Mr Muldoon’s report points out that since Ireland was last before the UN committee in 2006, the proportion of children living in consistent poverty had increased from 6.8% to 11.7% of the population.
Mr Muldoon said there was obviously a direct relationship between the number of children in consistent poverty and the economic crisis.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald referred to new figures from the CSO, showing that unemployment was now below 10%.
If we want to lift children out of poverty the best way was to create jobs and that was what was being done, she said.
Ms Fitzgerald said she was confident that child poverty figures would begin to decrease “quite dramatically” as more jobs were created and individual families felt the benefit.
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office has dealt with more than 10,000 complaints about public bodies since it was established in 2004. Mr Muldoon said his report for the UN committee was mainly based on statutory investigations by the office.
The report also includes excerpts from A Word From the Wise that sets out the stories behind seven cases investigated by the office.
On the issue of assisted reproduction, the report states that the State must ensure that children born through surrogacy have a legal entitlement to access “complete information” on their birth and origins.
As was the case in other jurisdictions, Ireland should adopt a “sufficient maturity” test rather than specifying an age at which this information might be obtained.
Mr Muldoon said the State needed to take a more active role in advancing the divestment of the patronage of denominational schools.
Also, practical difficulties for students being able to opt out of religious education in denominational schools should be addressed.
Concern that the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, was not meeting its own target timelines for screening and assessing a substantial number of child protection referrals, was also raised.
“The State must provide the Child and Family Agency with adequate resources to be able to meet its targets with respect to the timely assessment of child protection referrals to its services,” the report recommends.
The report also criticises the State for dragging its heels on banning corporal punishment and said it was “fundamentally inappropriate” to make it contingent on the level of public support.
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