Long way to go in Child Poverty and Youth Mental Health say Children’s Rights Alliance - as UN Committee notes both as ‘serious concerns’
The Children’s Rights Alliance today welcomes the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding Observations, outlining recommendations and guidance to the Irish State on how they can better uphold the rights of children and young people across a number of areas including: education, non-discrimination, poverty, mental health and youth justice.
Speaking in response to the publication, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance stated: “The UN Committee has recognised Ireland’s progress through legislative and policy measures to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the commencement of the Children First Act and Children and Family Relationships Act. It also notes Ireland’s progressive approach to implementing UN Convention with several new strategies recognised in their concluding Observations published today including National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, the LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020 and the third national strategy on domestic, the sexual and gender-based violence 2022. It is clear that Ireland is setting the pace with strategies and policy development and is an international leader when it comes to supporting the voice of children and young people in Ireland, but serious concerns remain.”
“We are not surprised to see mental health emerge as a ‘serious concern’ for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Their examination was clouded by the publication of a damning interim report by the Mental Health Commission that revealed the significant failings in the state’s provision of mental health support and care to young people. Now, those failings are being noted internationally. The view of our mental health services is not a positive one, with the Committee marking it as ‘insufficient’ and ‘inadequate’ and drawing attention to the long waiting lists that young people are meeting when trying to access help and support.”
“We particularly welcome the spotlight placed on the admission of children in adult psychiatric wards. We have repeatedly flagged this concern in our annual report card and urge the Government to heed the recommendations put forward by the UN Committee today to move away from this retrograde step. The Committee is also urging the State to resource the expansion of the mental health advocacy and information service for children. Children in Ireland still do not have access to child-friendly information on their mental health treatment options, and families have no independent service to turn to when they do experience issues or concerns with their child’s mental health care. In light of the recent revelation in CAMHS, this should be a priority for Government. If such a service had been in place, action could have been taken sooner on the serious breaches in children’s rights we have seen through the Maskey Report and Interim Report.”
On mental health recommendations, the Committee urges the State party to:
- (a) Ensure the availability of therapeutic mental health services and programmes for children, including by:
- (i) significantly increasing the resources allocated for the implementation and monitoring of the mental health policy;
- (ii) providing comprehensive mental health promotion, screening for mental health issues and early intervention services in schools at all levels and in communities;
- (iii) ensuring that the number of qualified professionals, including child psychologists and psychiatrists, is sufficient to meet children’s mental health needs in a timely manner; and
- iv) ensuring regular follow-up of children in treatment beyond the initial consultation and that the status of children under medication is adequately monitored;
- (b i) an explicit prohibition of the practice of placing children with mental health issues in adult psychiatric units; and
- (d) Invest in preventive measures, address the underlying causes of suicide and poor mental health among children, and ensure that children’s perspectives are included in the development of response services;
- (e) Allocate sufficient resources for the expansion of the mental health advocacy and information service for children.
“Access to education and the experience of the education system has clearly caught the eye of the UN Committee with specific concerns levelled at the State’s performance on upholding children and young people’s right to education,” said Tanya Ward. “Education can be an equalizer for children but if we continue with a one-size-fits all approach to the education system, curricula and assessments, we will only continue to push more children and young people out of education. The UN Committee is calling for a more inclusive approach, to reform education with specific concern raised on the persistent barriers children in disadvantage students face to access quality education. It is also very welcome to see attention drawn to the experience of children with special educational needs. The Committee recommendations include the establishment of special classes for children with disabilities and explicitly prohibit the use of restraint and seclusion in educational settings. The upcoming Citizen's Assembly on the Future of Education is a timely opportunity for us as a society to reimagine our education system to better meet the needs of all children.”
On education, the Committee expressed concern specifically:
- (a) Persistent barriers faced by children in disadvantaged situations to access quality ed ducation;
- (b) The discriminatory effect of the school leaving certificate and alternative methods of certification on children in disadvantaged situations;
- (c) The lack of education-related data disaggregated by ethnic origin, socioeconomic background and residence status to assess the impact of educational policies on such children;
- (d) The establishment of special classes for children with disabilities;
- (e) Racist and negative stereotypes against migrant and ethnic minority communities in curricula that perpetuate discrimination against such groups of children.
- (h) Explicitly prohibit the use of restraint and seclusion in educational settings.
“Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe. And yet, we are seeing consistent levels of poverty across the country. Yesterday, research by Barnardos revealed that one in five parents didn’t have enough food to feed their children. Children are more at risk of consistent poverty than the general population and recent figures show that over 205,000 households experienced deprivation. At the end of 2022, there were 3,442 children homeless in Ireland. Over double the number the last time Ireland was in front of the UN Committee in 2016. Today’s observations point to ‘serious concern’ about the child poverty persisting in Ireland and barriers to a decent standard of living for children, particularly those in ethnic minority communities. Child poverty can have a devastating impact on child’s life, and critically, if avenues to accessing education, healthcare, adequate housing, are not prioritised by Government, many of these children will be trapped in a cycle of intergenerational poverty,” continued Tanya Ward.
On standard of living/ poverty recommendations, the Committee urges the State party to:
- (a) Strengthen its policies to ensure that all children have an adequate standard of living, including by increasing social benefits to reflect rising costs of living, expanding the school meals programme and providing nutrition services to address food insecurity;
- (b) Address the root causes of homelessness among children, strengthen measures to phase out temporary and emergency accommodation schemes and significantly increase the availability of adequate and long-term social housing for families in need;
- (c) Assess the impact of the habitual residence condition on children of ethnic minority groups, including Traveller and Roma children and children of African descent, and amend social welfare payments accordingly to ensure that policies do not have a discriminatory effect on such children;
- (d) Ensure that measures to combat poverty comply with a child rights-based approach and include a particular focus on children from disadvantaged families, especially children of single parents, refugee children and children of ethnic minority groups.
“Turning the tide on child poverty will take a whole-of-government approach. The government have made a firm commitment to make child poverty a national, political priority with the announcement of a new child poverty unit. “There is a responsibility now to make sure that the unit is tooled-up with sufficient staff and resources to implement an ambitious plan to end child poverty,” concluded Tanya Ward.
Emma Archbold: email@example.com or 087 997 1410
Notes to Editors:
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, is available for comment.
The UN Committee’s Concluding Observations are available here.
The Children’s Rights Alliance Are We There Yet? Alternative Report is available here.
About the Children’s Rights Alliance:
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 140 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 #AreWeThereYet #UNCRC