Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance, and the ISPCC held a joint conference to comb over the developments of the past five years ahead of tomorrow’s anniversary of the referendum, highlighting the desperate situation faced by homeless children around the country and the formation of the child and family agency, Tusla.
A number of high-profile speakers addressed continuing gaps in service provision and in the law as regards children and their rights.
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said: “We have changed the law, we have changed the institutions, but we have yet to change the culture.”
He said he welcomed both the creation of Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, but said when the referendum was being held five years ago, nobody could have imagined that today more than 3,000 children would be homeless.
Tanya Ward, the chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said that “the number of children living in poverty would now fill Croke Park three times over”.
She also referred to the need for the legal system to become more child-friendly and a less intimidating place for children.
One of the key speakers yesterday was Professor Geoffrey Shannon, the Government-appointed special rapporteur on child law, who said: “Rights without resources are rights denied.
“This referendum was to create a new vision for Ireland where all families have their rights realised. Children are our greatest resource. How we treat our children is a statement of our commitment to the future.”
ISPCC Childline chief executive Grainia Long said a 24-hour social worker service is crucial for children’s wellbeing as their issues and problems do not end at 5pm, with adults deciding when their rights start and stop.
Positive developments since the passing of the referendum were also highlighted, including the Children and Family Relationships Act, while former minister Mary O’Rourke recalled the huge number of meetings at joint Oireachtas committee level which facilitated the wording put before the people for the referendum.
Child law solicitor Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons said there had been a lamentable lack of progress on children’s rights since the referendum, referring specifically to proposed changes to the role of the guardian ad litem in child welfare cases, which, he said, could be diluted down to the role of witness to proceedings.
He also criticised a lack of resources to ensure the voices of children are heard and a shortage of aftercare supports which, he said, are subject to resources, as well as the extent of waiting lists to access the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.