180 extra bodies face complaints grilling

Children and their parents can bring complaints about an additional 180 bodies to children’s ombudsman Emily Logan from the end of this month.

The extension of powers to a range of public bodies that provide services for children follows a lobbying campaign led by her since 2005. It may also add to the workload of Ms Logan’s office, which has already seen a 26% rise in complaints, year-on-year, in the first three months of 2013. Half of all complaints received are education related.

From Apr 30, the action or inaction of public and some private organisations now covered will come under the complaints and investigations remit of the Children’s Ombudsman. Those covered will include:

* National Council for Special Education;

* State Examinations Commission;

* National Educational Welfare Board;

* Courts Service.

The justice system has also been a key area of concern in relation to children’s rights in the past. An OCO spokesperson said it has received complaints from a number of parents in relation to St Patrick’s Institution since it was brought under Ms Logan’s investigation remit by an order signed by Justice Minister Alan Shatter last July.

While Ms Logan will now have power to conduct investigations into 180 additional bodies, her office will only be able to probe actions or decisions made prior to Apr 30.

A spokesperson said around half of all complaints it receives are education related, mostly to do with the actions of schools or the Department of Education.

Since being established nine years ago, the office has had more than 8,000 complaints. It dealt with around 1,500 last year. Ms Logan’s staff are in contact with the bodies now coming under her remit, and advocacy organisations, to explain the procedures and that people can bring complaints about action or inaction.

“It’s not just what they do but what they are seen to do. We have always had very positive engagement with public bodies,” the OCO spokesperson said.

“When it comes to complaints, we are not an adversary to a public body nor are we advocate for child. We are there to adjudicate and promote good administration that promotes children’s rights.”

The NCSE has been the focus of many criticisms in recent years, as parents have seen reduced availability of special needs assistants and resource teachers to their children with care needs in schools.

The council applies policies as set out by the Department of Education, meaning Ms Logan might not be able to recommend reversal of individual decision on resources.

However, she does have power to make recommendations to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and his Cabinet colleagues where she finds evidence that policies are having an unfair impact on children.

There have also been complaints in recent years about the application of waivers in Junior and Leaving Cert exams by the SEC.

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