THE Ombudsman for Children’s Office 2019 Annual Report reveals an increase in the percentage of complaints received relating to education, despite an overall decrease in the number of complaints received by the office on behalf of children.
In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) received 1,503 complaints, a decrease from 1,622 complaints in 2018, however 49% of the complaints in 2019 related to education, up from 42% in 2018. While the highest proportion of complaints came from Dublin (28%), 13% or approximately 195 complaints came from the Limerick region.
Of those complaints, 75% related to schools, 17% to the Department of Education and Skills and 4% were associated with other educational agencies such as the National Council for Special Education and the State Examinations Commission.
The OCO’s 2019 Annual Report also revealed that 20% of complaints related to Family Support Care and Protection, a reduction from 24% in 2018. The proportion of complaints received by the OCO that related to the health services also decreased last year from 16% in 2018 to 14% in 2019.
Complaints received by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office in 2019:
|20%||Family Support Care and Protection|
|5%||Housing and Planning|
Over the past number of years the OCO sought to address how child protection issues are handled by schools over concerns that the personal views, the school’s policies, or the involvement of the board of management might prevent these issues being raised with the Department of Education and Skills (DES).
The Office launched an investigation into how the DES and Education Inspectorate monitored and dealt with child protection complaints within schools, making subsequent recommendations to improve the systems in place.
As a result, the Child Protection and Welfare Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools were published and in place by 2019, in line with the OCO’s recommendations.
The Annual Report also reveals how the OCO raised the case of Maria with Tusla, a young person with complex needs who complained to the Office about her experiences in an emergency hostel.
Without a proper home, Maria found herself walking the streets day and night with nothing to do. She was also exposed to drink and drug misuse and was sexually exploited during this time.
The OCO was very concerned about the model of care provided to vulnerable young people like Maria. After engaging with Tusla, it was confirmed to the Office that a 24-hour service would be provided and that a number of residential respite centres to support children living at home or in foster care that require additional supports to maintain their placement had been developed.
Another of the case studies featured in the 2019 Annual Report details how the OCO worked on behalf of the parent of Conor, a teenager with a diagnosis of autism, depression and anxiety, who had been staying in a paediatric ward for nearly five months.
Conor’s parent was concerned about the inappropriate nature of the hospital placement, the delay in the HSE securing an appropriate place for him to stay and a lack of proper supports to help him.
Conor had little exercise, no access to education, limited therapeutic input and his only social interaction was with staff and parental visits. The OCO met with Conor in hospital and raised these concerns with the HSE, resulting in more proactive planning by the HSE for Conor’s care but it was still nine months after his admission that the HSE secured an individual placement for him supported, by a private care services provider.
Speaking about the 2019 Annual Report, Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said, “The rise in the percentage of complaints relating to education shows that while significant work and development has taken place in this area there are still many children and families who are unhappy with the way the education system is supporting them.
“In 2019, 5% of the complaints we received were about housing, representing no change on the previous year. Access to suitable housing was the main issue raised, which includes local authority housing allocation, suitable housing for children with disabilities, emergency homeless accommodation, medical priority allocation and general transfer issues. We also launched “No Place Like Home” in 2019 to highlight the feelings and concerns of children living in Family Hubs.
“During 2019 we continued to place the rights and welfare of children to the fore in all our work. The second annual Child Talks event took place offering children an opportunity to talk about a right that is particularly important to them.
“We also hosted Beyond Limits; an event aimed at empowering young people with disabilities with over 1,000 children, parents, siblings, carers and those working with people with disabilities in attendance.
“The Office remains concerned about the slow pace of change to improve law, policy and provision in the area of children and young people’s mental health. In a meeting with the Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People in December 2019, I raised the need for swift progress in a number of areas, including the Government’s Mental Health (Amendment) Bill; the publication of the refreshed Vision for Change; and the establishment of the Youth Mental Health Pathfinder project.
“From my perspective as Ombudsman for Children, key issues for children and their rights that I want to see Government and the State pursue during 2020 include making tangible progress on putting in place a mental health system for children that is fit for purpose and upholds children’s right to the highest attainable standard of mental health.
“I would also like to see the homelessness crisis addressed as a matter of urgency, ensuring that meaningful steps are taken on the issue of enumerating the right to housing in our Constitution. New political commitments to address and indeed end Direct Provision are welcomed and I hope that these will be honoured in the quickest possible timeframe,” Dr Muldoon concluded.