‘Immediate action needed to tackle family homelessness.
We can’t allow progress to reverse’ - Children’s Rights Alliance
Government awarded ‘E’ grade in ‘Family Homelessness’ in Report Card 2022
• Alternative education: Government must take action to support children and young people failed by mainstream education
• Online safety: Legislation must provide for an effective complaints mechanism to support children and young people online
All the lessons we have learned from the pandemic to help improve the lives of children and young people must be a key focus for Government in 2022. That’s according to the Children’s Rights Alliance, which is today (21.02.2022) publishing its Report Card 2022. This year’s Report Card grades the Government on the progress it has made towards keeping its promises to children and young people made in its Programme for Government commitments.
Speaking at the launch of the Report Card today, Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said:
“Over the past two years, children and young people have been forced to adapt to a different way of life, and now we are asking them to go back to the way things were before. During the pandemic, we saw a meaningful decrease in the numbers of families with children experiencing homelessness, yet in 2021 that number has started to creep back up again. We saw that Government could take meaningful action with dedicated policies that had a positive impact on the number of families experiencing homelessness. The Government’s emergency response to the pandemic in 2020 had a strong focus on preventative measures and resulted in fewer families in emergency accommodation. There is a strong appetite now after the challenges of COVID-19 to change things for the better; we should be building on what worked well rather than simply returning to the way things were before. We can’t allow progress to reverse. While there was a welcome target of ending homelessness by 2030 and key measures in the Government’s new Housing for All Strategy, published in 2021, there is a need to introduce additional measures to step-up efforts to tackle child and family homelessness particularly for those who are disproportionately impacted including one parent families, Traveller families, families with disabilities and people leaving Direct Provision. This is why the Government gets an ‘E’ grade in this area, down from a ‘C’ grade last year.”
In December 2021, there were 1,077 families experiencing homelessness and 2,451 children experiencing homelessness; by the end of 2021, almost one in four children living in emergency accommodation in Dublin were there for more than two years.
Conversely, education is one area where there has been some progress made and the Children’s Rights Alliance welcomed the publication of guidelines on reduced timetables, at the end of 2021. Reduced timetables is a practice whereby a school limits the amount of time a child is spending in school for behavioural or other reasons.
Tanya Ward continued:
“The Government got a ‘B-‘ grade for this progress. However, the way in which the education system adapted to account for a shift to online learning, and a hybrid exam model, shows that positive changes can make a real difference, particularly for those already experiencing disadvantage. Not all children and young people fit into mainstream education and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to schooling does not work. We need to see the publication of a survey for alternative education to harness the potential of each and every young person in education and ensure that they have a positive experience. We also welcome the increased funding for special educational needs, although much more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people are supported to access their right to education. The review of the EPSEN Act in 2022 will be key to this. The Government must take action to support children for whom mainstream education fails and to help them to reach their full potential.”
Last September 16 year old John (not his real name) started iScoil, a non-profit online alternative education programme that offers young people a way to re-engage with education, achieve recognised qualifications and access further education, training and employment opportunities.
“School was exhausting and so stressful; I couldn’t cope with the workload, the timetable, the homework, and don’t even mention the word exams! I just couldn’t make school work. I felt so lucky to get a place on the programme as my mum had heard there were very limited places. With iScoil, I will get my QQI Level 3, which is the same qualification as my Junior Certificate, but the courses are relevant to life and I go at my own pace. No shame in being myself, just the kindest, most supportive mentors and tutors. iScoil doesn’t take over my life, but it’s a part of it.”
Online safety: Individual complaints mechanism
The proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill is very important in this Programme for Government and Ireland has a real opportunity to be a leader in the complex area of online safety for children and young people.
“Over the last two years, children and young people have spent a good proportion of their lives online. It’s now time to end the era of self-regulation when it comes to big tech but without an individual complaints mechanism, we believe that children and young people still won’t know where to turn or be able to access an effective and timely remedy when things go wrong online. The expert group convened to examine the potential inclusion of an individual complaints mechanism in the Bill is very welcome. The publication of the OSMR Bill alongside this announcement has resulted in the Government receiving a ‘C-‘ grade. However, it’s critical that the legislation provides for an effective complaints mechanism and an Online Safety Commissioner with robust powers, comparable to the Australian e-commissioner so that online tech providers can’t be let off the hook.”
Mark Smyth, Past President of the Psychological Society of Ireland added:
“It is no surprise that young people, parents and teachers have again raised concerns about the prevalence of cyberbullying given the increased online activity over the course of the pandemic. Cyberbullying has a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of young people. The importance of establishing an Online Safety Commissioner cannot be overlooked here; children have always benefitted from having someone to look out for them We need someone with eyes on how platforms are ensuring the safety of those who engage with their services and, with effective powers to hold big tech accountable for harms that not only occur on their sites, but are often exacerbated by the very architecture of them.”
Highlighting the ‘E’ Grade for mental health, Mark Smyth continued:
“There are a myriad of solutions that exist to address the glaring gaps in the provision of mental health services and support for children, young people and their families if the political will and funding is there to make it happen.
Children and young people have a right to receive age-appropriate, safe healthcare and the inexcusable fact that 25 young people were placed in adult wards in 2021 continues to be unacceptable. The Government must take immediate steps to end this practice rather than embed it in legislation like they are proposing to do.
The pressures on CAMHS have been abundantly clear for many years and we are all very conscious of the concerning issues that have recently come to light in South Kerry CAMHS.
Government has to listen to the experiences of young people, parents and frontline professionals and implement solution-focussed recommendations to fix it in real terms. Now more than ever children and young people need support given the rise in mental health issues and increased demand for mental health services since the onsent of the pandemic. A modern society should be judged on how we treat the most vulnerable, an ‘E’ grade for the provision of mental health supports to children is inexcusable, we must do better.”
Report Card 2022 is the second 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 2021. The Children’s Rights Alliance selected 16 promises to children and have rated the Government on its efforts in 2021.
Other areas that need immediate action include:
- Mental Health (E Grade): The report focuses on the Government commitment to end the admission of children into adult psychiatric facilities. While the numbers admitted to such units in 2021 fell, there is a growing number of children and young people waiting for a first appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Furthermore, the inclusion of the admission of children into adult inpatient facilities into the General Scheme of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 puts this on a statutory footing and is a retrograde step.
The Government has made positive progress in the following areas:
- Children living in Direct Provision (B- Grade): The publication of the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision with clear commitments, that if implemented, will transform the lives of children and young people seeking asylum. Accountability and implementation structures have been put in place and will help to monitor progress to determine if the Government will meet its own deadline to end Direct Provision by 2024.
- Pathways for Undocumented Children (B Grade): In December 2021, the Government approved the scheme to regularise the status of undocumented people living in Ireland. People with an outstanding application for international protection, who have been in the asylum process for at least two years, will also be eligible to apply for the scheme. While the opening of the scheme in early 2022 has highlighted several anomalies requiring addressing, the scheme marks significant progress in this area.
- Reform of Early Childhood Education and Care (B- Grade): There was clear progress in this area as a number of key initiatives came to fruition. The publication of the Expert Group on the Funding Model Report and the Workforce Development Plan provides a strong foundation for the systemic change needed to reform the early childhood education and care system in Ireland. Other significant developments include the commencement of a Joint Labour Committee and the publication of the National Action Plan on Childminding. Momentum towards reform must keep apace in 2022.
- Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences (A Grade): The full realisation of this commitment in the Programme for Government is acknowledged with an A grade. This is due to the enactment of the Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill in full in February 2021.
Tanya Ward concluded:
“It is clear that where the Government has committed to identifying solutions to systemic issues, progress has been made. In the area of early years, 2021 was a fruitful year in terms of reforming the system of early childhood education and care. However, the same dedication has not been applied across all areas. Despite positive progress in the area of family homelessness in 2020, particularly at the onset of the emergency response to the pandemic, by December 2021 this had been eroded and is now one of the direst challenges facing our country today.”
Report Card 2022 is available on the Children’s Rights Alliance website, www.childrensrights.ie.
For more information/interviews contact:
Notes to Editors:
Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, and Mark Smyth, Past President of the Psychological Society of Ireland are available for media interviews.
Professor Aine Hyland is also available for media interviews.
About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 130 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL. #ReportCard2022