The state’s most vulnerable children are not benefiting from the economic upturn and use of words like “inclusiveness” and “equality” are sometimes little more than lip service, according to the Ombudsman for Children.
In his annual report 2018, Niall Muldoon said it was “increasingly frustrating” that despite the state’s improved finances, there was no trickle down to those most in need.
He said it pained him to have to repeat a call made to Government a year ago — to come up with new ways of dealing with the housing crisis “which has continued to grow in its capacity to seriously damage lives”.
At a time when there were more than 10,000 people in emergency accommodation, including 3,800 children, housing should be “a social good”.
“The State needs to move away from prioritising private financial interests that view housing as a commodity”, he said, and focus on “enumerating the right to housing in our Constitution... as promised within the current Programme for a Partnership Government (2016)”.
Mr Muldoon said he remained “extremely concerned” about the continuing delays in accessing an Assessment of Need (AoN), which is used to determine the level of support a disabled child needs.
Mr Muldoon said they “need to be assessed as quickly as possible, not to get extra supports, but to get what they are rightfully entitled to”.
A total of 1,622 new complaints were made to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children in 2018, including the case of six-year-old Amy.
Amy was diagnosed with autism following an AoN. She was referred to the local HSE School Age Disability Team and a HSE-funded autism service, but both refused her on the grounds that she didn’t meet the criteria.
Her parents contacted the Ombudsman and, following his intervention, Amy was accepted into one of the services.
Education remained the issue most complained about, accounting for 42% of complaints in 2018.
One of those related to the case of Alex, who had severe epilepsy, and who was having difficulty attending primary school as he had not been allocated a full-time special needs assistant.
The school principal made the complaint to the Ombudsman as she felt the National Council for Special Education did not provide him with adequate SNA cover in the classroom.
After the Ombudsman’s intervention, the NCSE reviewed the case and a full-time SNA was put in place for Alex.
The highest number of complaints (29%) where a location was provided came from the Dublin region, while 11% came from Cork.
Mr Muldoon said the report showed that “despite the upturn in Ireland’s economy, mistakes are still being made by public bodies and these mistakes are having a long lasting negative impact on our children”.
He said the most vulnerable children, “and particularly those who cannot or do not know how to speak for themselves, remain in the shadows” at a time when “Ireland is being sold as a strong defender of rights and terms like inclusiveness, equality and non-discrimination are in regular use”.
The report is available at www.oco.ie/library.