Published date: 20 Feb 2024

Game-changing progress brings Government halfway to fulfilling its commitments – but it’s a long road to deliver for the most vulnerable children

Game-changing progress brings Government halfway to fulfilling its commitments – but it’s a long road to deliver for the most vulnerable children


The Children’s Rights Alliance launched its Annual Report Card today grading the Government on whether it delivered on its commitments in the Programme for Government. The Government has failed to keep its promise to children in mental health and is struggling to deliver effectively on housing. At the same time, the Report recognises many strides in the field of education.

Speaking at the launch of the Report Card today (20.02.2024), Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said:

This year was an important year for investing in critical universal public services for children, such as the €4.7 million investment into affordable early years education, the expansion of free school books to all children and young people in Junior Cycle benefiting an additional 213,000 students, and the expansion of the school meals programme at primary school level. At the same time, the Government is struggling to get ahead of demand on housing, including for people seeking protection.”

Housing and Direct Provision

“There were nearly 4,000 children homeless by the end of last year and while green shoots of progress have kept the Government grade above a fail, we are miles behind where we need to be to meet the demand for suitable and affordable accommodation and this is having a lasting impact on young children whose world is bring reduced to one small room. To really turn the tide on this issue, government need to prioritise investment towards sufficient own-door accommodation structures as well as the introduction of standards to enable adequate inspection of emergency accommodation already in place.”

“We acknowledge that the Government is working in difficult circumstances particularly because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the same, while they are moving ahead with addressing poverty for children seeking protection, it is extremely concerning that so many children are now in unsuitable accommodation that has a detrimental impact on their development and wellbeing. In fact, these are seriously retrograde steps at a time when Government had ambitions to end the Direct Provision system as we knew it. No child should be in sub-standard accommodation that does not comply to hard-fought national standards. We do not accept that there are no other possible solutions. Relying on private hotel-type accommodation and poorly-converted buildings is not the right solution. The Government needs to invest in purpose-built facilities that meet the needs of children and families and urgently need to see national standards being applied to any emergency setting being used. It is s simply not good enough for Government to wash their hands of this responsibility and rely on these families to deal with these difficult situations day in, day out.”


Children’s Mental Health

“It is worrying that the Government committed to ending the admission of children to adult units, and four years’ later, they are rowing back on this commitment, stating that may not be the case that Ireland will ever reach a point where there are absolutely no children in adult facilities. Admitting children in adult units when they are in distress is very frightening for them. The Report Card reveals that 12 children were admitted in the last year. This is down from 20 in 2022. However, serious questions need to be raised about the lack of CAMHS beds, with 50 percent of the admissions in 2023 caused by the lack of CAMHS capacity. We have seen throughout 2023 a reduction in in-patient CAMHS capacity due to staff shortages with only 51 of 72 beds being operational. This coupled with the high numbers of children waiting for a first appointment with CAMHS (almost 4,000 children as of July 2023) points to a creaking at the seams.”

Report Card 2024 presents critical recommendations to move on commitments that are failing to deliver for children and young people:

  • Mental Health (E): The Government receives their third consecutive ‘E’ grade in this area, reflecting the continued practice of admitting children to adult psychiatric units and the unacceptable rise in waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • Ending Direct Provision (D): An unprecedented increase in the number of people seeking refuge in both International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) and emergency accommodation provision as a direct result of the war in Ukraine has resulted in the deterioration of standards for children and young people seeking asylum. Children have been placed in emergency accommodation centres which are often unsuitable.
  • Family Homelessness (D-): 2023 saw a record number of children homeless – almost 4,000 children. However, in spite of this, we are seeing green shoots emerge in terms of how Government is tackling the issue.  Of the families who presented as homeless, almost 50 per cent (1,624 families) were prevented from entering emergency accommodation in 2023. In 2023 we also saw the number of people leaving homeless accommodation and entering the private market fell to 58 per cent, meaning that 42 per cent exited to more sustainable tenancies such as social housing.

At the other end of the table, three ‘A’ grades and five ‘B’ grades reflect significant positive progress made by Government, particularly in the area of Education. Recommendations focus on how Government can build on these commitments to reach those children feeling the sharpest impacts of poverty:

  • Early Childhood Education and Care (A-): Consistent work towards delivering quality, affordable and accessible childcare in 2023 resulted in an ‘A-’. The grade recognises the large-scale investment in early years, including an allocation of €4.5 million to commence work on the development of the Equal Participation Model – a DEIS-type model of early years service provision to reach children in poverty.2023 saw the realisation of the goal to invest €1 billion in the sector five years ahead of schedule. This is significant as it brings our spending on early years from being historically the second lowest o being more in line with the OECD average.
  • Free School Books (A-): 2023 saw the rollout of the Free School books scheme to all primary school students. In the academic year 2023/24, over 561,000 students in over 3,230 primary schools, including over 130 special education schools benefitted from the scheme. Budget 2024 provided for the expansion of the scheme to all schools in the junior cycle from September 2024 which is expected to benefit up to 213,000 second level students.
  • Food poverty (B): In recognition of the sustained investment in the Hot School Meals Programme, the Government was awarded a ‘B’ grade. The Government continues to make progress in relation to the tackling food poverty. In 2023, the Government committed to providing a free hot school meal to every school-going child by 2030. The Hot School Meals programme was expanded upon again in Budget 2024 which committed to expanding the programme to non-DEIS primary schools. This progress means 320,000 children will receive a hot school meal over the course of the 2023/2024 academic year.

“It is also important to note new initiatives announced by the Government that demonstrate their desire to develop innovative programmes and solutions that work to address the acute inequality experienced by Traveller families, children with disabilities and those of ethnic minorities with investment in the Equal Participation Model at early years and new guidelines on the use of reduced school days. The targeted measures combined with the consistent progress on universal measures such as school books and hot school meals is an encouraging sign of what can be achieved with the Child Poverty and Wellbeing Unit fully operational and adequately resourced in future budgets.”

Speaking to the recommendations in the report, Tanya Ward continued:

“The Government have already proven that they are more than capable of making incredible headway in the name of children’s best interest through the establishment of a Child Poverty and Wellbeing Unit. We have seen commendable dedication towards the completion of an array of commitments relating to ending child poverty. Government must now turn its head to commitments that, so far, have been largely ignored to ensure no child is forgotten and the most vulnerable members of our society know that the leaders of their country are fighting for them.”


Report Card 2024 is available on the Children’s Rights Alliance website here.


For more information/interviews contact:

Robyn at [email protected] or 085 800 1275 /
Emma at [email protected] / 087 997 1410


Notes to Editors:

  • Report Card 2024 is the fourth analysis of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party’s joint Programme for Government: Our Shared Future and how it performed for children in 2023. Report Card 2024 monitors 16 promises to children and young people and has rated the Government on its efforts in 2023.
  • Report Card 2024 is available here.

For media queries, please contact:

Emma Archbold

Campaigns and Communications Director