THE OMBUDSMAN for children has expressed serious concern about the future of the office and its capacity to investigate due to a lack of resources.
Launching her office’s annual report yesterday, Emily Logan said she wished to place on the public record her concerns about the office’s ability to respond to increasing demand — particularly in investigative cases.
Last year, the office dealt with 912 complaints, up from 810 in 2008. They dealt with often complex cases concerning children in care, child protection and the adequacy of HSE services, relating both to difficulties in accessing appropriate services for children and young people, and also delays in the provision of those services.
Issues raised by children themselves include:
* Young people’s voices not being heard in care planning and decisions that affect them, especially decisions to find or change their placement.
* Delays and lack of clarity in care planning.
* Absence of any aftercare provision or delays in aftercare planning.
* Not having an allocated social worker.
* Accommodation and supports available for young people who are homeless.
In relation to staffing issues, Ms Logan said her office had made an application to the Department of Finance for two additional staff for the complaints team.
The submission was supported by the secretary general of the Department of Health and Children for two additional staff but the request was refused.
“While I have not until now expressed concern for the future of the office, I am concerned about the ability of my office to deliver the kind of response that I think is needed with the current resources. The fact is that the workload of one of our three core functions — that of investigations — has increased substantially with less resources,” Ms Logan said in her foreword.
She said the publication of the Ryan Report had also placed additional pressure on her office, which experienced a “substantial increase” in the number of complaints received following its publication.
Another area of concern raised in the report is the difficulty accessing special care placements, in particular for young people involved in the criminal justice system.
According to the report, following a number of High Court judgments in 2007, the HSE and Children’s Act Advisory Board have revised the admissions criteria.
In practical terms this has resulted in children/young people involved in ongoing criminal proceedings being unable to avail of such a placement until the criminal proceedings are concluded.
In effect, this can result in the anomaly whereby they cannot avail of such a placement while the criminal proceedings are ongoing, but can avail of the placement when convicted, where custodial sentences are not given.
Another emerging issue was the number of complaints brought primarily by parents on behalf of their children who were awaiting services such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, psychology services, child and adolescent mental health services and hospital services. Parents reported significant waiting times for their children to be seen.
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