Children emerging from the ‘perfect storm’ on child protection will require significant support through a major Covid Recovery Strategy says Children’s Rights Alliance
Commenting on the publication of today’s reports, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “The publication today is a stark reminder of what children and young people have endured over the past two years of the pandemic, what Dr O Mahony referred to as “the perfect storm” from a child protection standpoint.
The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection notes that the main issue during the reporting period was the impact of Covid19 pandemic on the Child Protection system. He highlights that by international standards, Ireland experienced some of the longest school closures. And while schools worked hard to provide online learning options, the closures had a devastating impact on children with additional needs and disadvantaged children.
While acknowledging the initial lockdown was an emergency response to the outbreak of Covid-19, based on the available scientific evidence in 2021, Dr O Mahony calls into question the second school closures given the overwhelming harm that they caused. In the report, he voices his concern about the levels of learning loss, child poverty and poor mental health among children and calls for major investments in services to meet the demands.”
Tanya Ward continued: “The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection is calling into the question the indiscriminate school closures that took place in 2021 and the lasting impact on children. What is clear now is that we need to see a National Recovery Plan for Children and Young People. That Plan needs to be prepared in conjunction with young people and service providers and it needs major investment by Government. Alongside older and vulnerable people, children and young people are paying the highest price because of the pandemic. This Report comes on the same day as an Ombudsman for Children Report which found that children’s interests were not always considered in decisions around the pandemic”.
The Report also deals with improvements in the Child Protection System, in particular, the fact that the Gardaí established the National Garda Protective Services Bureau and that it has continued to roll out the Barnhaus model – a one stop shop for child victims. However, the unprecedented public health emergency also resulted in an escalation of child protection concerns with the rapid shift online for children and young people. The Special Rapporteur notes that with a significant increase of online activity, came a heightened risk of exposure to harmful online content.
“The report shines a light on the darker side of the internet. Over the course of the pandemic, particularly during the early stages, there is considerable evidence that the volume of child sexual abuse material dramatically increased. We echo the recommendation in the report to implement more far-reaching measures to combat the rise of very serious child protection concerns online, particularly the circulation of child sexual abuse material online. It is critical that specialised services like the Gardaí National Protective Bureau are resourced to investigate and prosecute these crimes. The report also points to the need for renewed responsibility on the online platforms, particularly those that employ end-to-end encryption channels, to ensure they do not impede investigations of this material on their sites,” commented Tanya Ward.
This Report also makes reference to international research of social media posts during lockdown which documented “a significant increase in abusive content generated during the stay-at-home restrictions” and “evidence of the potential for children to be exposed to increasingly abusive content while online”. When we look closer to home, we have recently heard of the most extreme incidences of cyberbullying like the tragic case of Eden Heaslip. The DCU National Anti-Bullying Centre flagged a 20 per cent increase in cyberbullying in 2020, with Ireland reporting one of the highest incidences of cyberbullying in all of Europe.
In his Report published today, Dr O Mahony emphasises the absence of an individual complaints mechanism that can lead to the removal of harmful content as the “by far the biggest gap in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill as it stands” and as part of our ongoing #123OnlineSafety campaign, we have also highlighted the importance of including an effective and accessible way for children and young people to seek a resolution when they experience harms online. The Expert Group exploring the individual complaints mechanism must be solution-focused and should consider the views of young people themselves over the course of the coming months,” concluded Tanya Ward.
Notes to Editors:
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, is available for comment on 087 653 1069.
Special Raporteur on Child Protection Annual Report is available here
Please include details of our Helpline:
Children's Rights Alliance helpline: 01 902 0494
Open Mondays 10am to 4pm, Wednesdays 10am to 4pm and Friday 10am to 12 noon.
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.