Coalition is ‘failing vulnerable children’ - rights groups give Government's efforts D+

Children whose parents drink to excess, along with children who are homeless and others who are victims of crime are not being looked after by this Government, say children’s rights groups.

Coalition is ‘failing vulnerable children’ - rights groups give Government's efforts D+

Little improvement is being made either in the lives of children living in poverty or those stuck in the asylum and refugee systems.

Furthermore, just one 24-hour state service for victims of sexual assault under the age of 14 exists in the country. The service in Galway had to shut temporarily, twice in the last two years, due to lack of funding.

In its annual ‘Report Card’, the Children’s Rights Alliance examined how well the present Government is implementing promises made around children in the Programme for Government.

It found the Government’s record is poorer than previous administrations with a panel of experts awarding the Government a D+.

Chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward said: “While there has been progress in a number of areas, overall this is the lowest grade in six years. This needs to change.”

The big wins for children in the past year are Minister Katherine Zappone’s affordable childcare scheme and the sexual offences bill which provides a legal definition of consent and recognises new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children like child grooming.

Tanya Ward
Tanya Ward

Another marked improvement for families is the introduction of two weeks paid paternity leave for fathers.

The Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) expert panel found unnecessary delays in introducing the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and in introducing the McMahon report recommendations around direct provision.

“And, a child who has been sexually or physically abused or is a witness to serious abuse often has to wait up to six months before being interviewed for court proceedings.

“Six months is a long time in the life of a child. For a vulnerable, and at risk child, six months is an eternity,” said Ms Ward.

Child victims of crime also face significant delays in accessing counselling support services.

One support service in Dublin, the CARI Foundation has reported a 200% rise in families on its waiting list since January 2015.

The CRA called on the Government to speed up the divestment of schools from religious patronage.

The Government had set a target of transferring 18 schools per year from religious to secular patronage but in the past five years, just 10 such schools have opened.

While welcoming the extension of free GP care to under-6s, it said moves to extend this right to children under 12 had stalled.

Child mental health is not being resourced properly either with 2,080 on waiting lists to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

‘Report Card 2017’ combines data from national policy documents and statistical research as well as from CRA member records to paint a picture of the status of children’s rights in Ireland.

Up to 100 different groups are members of Children’s Rights Alliance including education, child advocacy and social work groups.

Alliance wants homeless families with children prioritised

The Children’s Rights Alliance has called on homeless families with children to be prioritised when houses are being allocated.

In its report card on Government action on children, it awarded an ‘E’ grade to the Government because of the “horrific reality” in which many children live. This week’s homelessness figures show that 1,205 families — including 2,205 children — are homeless nationwide.

It said children should be able to access play and recreational facilities while in homeless accommodation.

The alliance is firmly behind introducing one year’s paid parental leave, which could be taken by either parent, after maternity pay.

In the report card, it awarded a C+ to the Government for its parental leave and income supports because of its recent introduction of paid paternity leave and increases in the home carer credit and income disregards for lone parents.

It warned that there is much more to do, including introducing a full year’s paid leave for parents.

The alliance also backed the proposed working family payment, which the Government says it wants to introduce in the next budget. This is aimed at helping parents move from welfare to work. It is aimed at low-income families who, because of the welfare system, can end up better off on welfare than at work.

The alliance criticised the Government for its failure to assess the quality of the first preschool year and not acting on its programme for government plan to withdraw funding from creches that don’t meet quality standards.

“To date there is little evidence of the withdrawal of public funds for breach of the statutory 2016 regulations or it predecessors. Of 2,302 services inspected in 2015, two services were prosecuted in the courts for breach of the 2006 regulations that preceded the 2016 regulations. The services remained open despite conviction as the court did not mandate closure,” states the report.

It awarded a ‘D’ to the Government for its work on educational disadvantage as its action plan for the area still hasn’t been published. The Government had promised to increase the gap between DEIS and non-DEIS schools as a significant number of children from poorer background attend non-DEIS schools.

The alliance stated: “Children who experience educational disadvantage because of their socioeconomic background but do not attend a school in a disadvantaged area will remain beyond the reach of supports such as the home school liaison programme, the school completion programme and planning supports.

“It is unclear how the Government intends to address the additional support needs of these children.”

Another ‘E’ grade was given to the Government because of its handling of Traveller and Roma children rights. Traveller children leave school an average of five years earlier than non-Traveller children and are 3.6 times more likely to die in infancy.

The Government’s record on asylum-seeker and refugee children has been criticised for years. Up to 1,098 children live in direct provision. Limited progress on reforming the system was noted but still, there were just two self-catering direct provision centres in Ireland at the end of the year. Also, children in direct provision cannot receive child benefit payments and still aren’t under the remit of the Children’s Ombudsman.

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