Keys issues impacting Irish children have been highlighted today with the publication of the The Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card 2018.
This year, the Government has been awarded an overall C- grade by the The Children’s Rights Alliance, which is an improvement on last year’s D+ grade. Report Card 2018 scrutinises the Government’s performance each year against commitments made to children in the Programme for Government.
The annual Report Card is graded by an independent panel of experts, chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness.
Child and Family Homelessness received the lowest grade due to an unprecedented 3,333 children experiencing homelessness in 2017. The highest grades were awarded for Child Protection (a B) and LGBTI+ Children (a B-).
Despite the publication of the Youth Mental Health Taskforce Report, mental health once again got a low grade, D+, due to the 6,811 children on waiting lists for vital community mental health supports. In Donegal alone, 204 children are currently awaiting an initial assessment from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) team.
A D+ grade was also awarded for commitments to Traveller and Roma Children: according to the report, Traveller children leave school on average five years earlier than their settled peers and are nearly four times more likely to die in infancy.
Progress was steady in Education, which received one of the higher grades of this year’s report: a C. There was an increase in Special Needs Assistants, the introduction of a new Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools (DEIS) Plan 2017 and reform of the School Completion Programme. However, religious diversity in schools brought the grade down, as the revised School Admissions legislation has not been published, despite a commitment from government to tackle the baptism barrier.
Family Environment and Alternative Care received a B- grade reflecting the announcement that a new Executive Office for the Guardian ad litem service will be established. However, while a new Victims of Crime Act 2017 is positive, far more support is needed for child victims of crime including a dedicated strategy to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children. Services are seriously inadequate and children are waiting long periods of time for the supports and services they need to rebuild their lives.
In Health, which got a C-, the report states that there is little evidence of progress towards the phased extension of free GP care to all children; and progress on the dental health package for children under six is slow. The implementation of an automatic entitlement to a medical card for all children with disabilities who are in receipt of Domiciliary Care Allowance was welcomed. One area of concern is that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which will protect children, has not yet been enacted. Provisions on minimum unit pricing and advertising must be maintained and the legislation prioritised and passed without further delay, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance.
Parental Leave and Income Supports received a C grade in Report Card 2018. This reflects the efforts made to raise awareness of Paternity Benefit for fathers and partners, and proposals to introduce a Family Leave Bill to introduce paid parental leave for both parents. The €2 increase in Budget 2018 for the children of social welfare recipients is welcome, according to the report, but no specific provision was made to recognise the additional costs that arise for parents where a child is over the age of 12.
Childminding received a D grade, given that at least 35,000 children spend time in unregulated childminding settings. Only 122 childminders of an estimated 22,000 are registered with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Meanwhile ‘Subsidised and School-Age Childcare’ received a C grade.
Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children received a D+ grade in Report Card 2018, up from a D- last year. This reflects the progress made in the resettlement and relocation of refugees and asylum-seekers from Lebanon and Greece respectively, and the fact that there have been some reforms of the Direct Provision system.
However, the report also highlights that 1,300 children are living in Direct Provision in Ireland and that, despite a government commitment to relocate 20 unaccompanied minors from Greece to Ireland, only six had been referred and relocated by the end of 2017.
Commenting today, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said this grade represents a satisfactory attempt, but some children are still left wanting.
“Report Card 2018 showed up some shocking findings, particularly in the areas of homeless, and health measures affecting children throughout the country, including Donegal children,” said Ms. Ward.
“There were 3,333 children living in homeless accommodation in November 2017, an increase of 33 per cent since 2016. This is a shocking figure by any measure. If you go back 10 years to when we first started publishing our annual Report Cards, child homelessness happened rarely; now, in the aftermath of the crash, it is a national emergency.
“The E grade reflects the fact that, despite efforts by the Government to address the issue of child homelessness, it failed to meet its own deadline of mid-2017 to end the use of unsuitable long-term emergency accommodation for families. The rollout of family hubs has improved the situation for some children, but further investment in social and affordable housing is needed or the housing crisis will continue.”
Ms. Ward stressed that the grades in the Report Card are based on what the Government has committed to in the Programme of Government – rather than on what the Children’s Rights Alliance believes to be the best course of action. In addition, she highlighted failings in mental health care for children at today’s launch.
“Childhood is so short, yet we are expecting children to wait for over a year to have basic healthcare needs met,” she said.
“More than one in three are forced to wait over a year for vital community mental health supports. That’s not good enough.
“We absolutely acknowledge that important progress has been made in certain areas but, in others, progress has stalled or has rolled back. We’re living in uncertain times due to Brexit and a deepening housing crisis, but it’s critical that we don’t let children pay the price for wider societal failures.”
Report Card 2018 is the tenth Report Card published by the Children’s Rights Alliance.
Commenting on the milestone publication today, Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness said: “The Alliance works for the rights of children using the collective experience and expertise of member organisations.
“Over the last decade, the Report Card has reflected the reality of children’s lives and the impact on children of decisions made by national policymakers. It is important to give praise where it is due, as well as seeking change where it is needed.
“This is what the annual Report Card aims to do.”Tags: