Children's Ombudsman caseload rises


Complaints to the office of the Children’s Ombudsman rose by 22 per cent last year, according to its annual report published today.

The office investigated 1,393 new complaints in 2011 with almost half of the complaints relating to education and 32 per cent to health.

Complaints about education were up 9 per cent on the previous year with the most common concerning the failure of teachers or principals to address concerns raised by parents and changes to the provision of school transport.

Bullying, special needs resources and problems about boards of management accounted for the rest of the complaints.

Decisions about children in care and the adequacy of and access to HSE services were the most common complaints received in relation to health.

A total of 76 per cent of complaints made to the office were from parents.

Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan said she was not surprised by the rise in complaints in relation to education.

“Parents are very worried about the cuts to special needs education and they become fearful because there is a lack of communication about what the implications might be for their child,” she said.

She said the “stock answer” of insufficient resources to provide services to children was not adequate. “While adequate resources are of great importance to guaranteeing that children’s rights are respected, the attitude and culture that underpin how we engage with and provide for children is arguably more fundamental,” she said.

“We continue to see more concern for the system than for the best interest of the child and family.”

She stressed the need for Government policies based on fairness and equity, even more so at a time of fiscal difficulties.

“When things were good in Ireland we still had the highest rate of child poverty in Europe. So it’s not an issue that comes to us suddenly in a recession. It’s an issue that we need to be very careful about. The choices that we make and how that impacts in particular on poor and vulnerable families,” she said.

Excessive bureaucracy and the “tortuous paths” parents have to take to achieve State support for their children were identified as problems that arise year after year.

Lack of interaction with the public and the absence of child impact analysis were also identified as recurrent problems brought to the attention of the office.

Ms Logan said investigations undertaken by her office on foot of individual complaints brought by a child or a family can identify the necessity for change that can benefit very many children into the future.

Giving the example of the refusal by a school in Munster to enrol a 16-year-old girl because she was pregnant, Ms Logan said the results of that investigation had wide-ranging implications.

“Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has committed to producing enrolment legislation that will cover all schools, not just this individual case and both he and Minister Fitzgerald were very strong in their comments about how a young person like this in this situation should be treated and deserves the respect and dignity that any other young person who is attending school,” she said.

Breakdown of complaints

Of the 1,393 new complaints received by the Children’s Ombudsman in 2011, 47% related to education, 32% to health, 5% to justice and 4% to housing/planning. 12% of complaints did not fall into any of these categories. The majority of these complaints related to social welfare allowance/payments for children.

Complaints relating to education

Actions of Teacher/Principal 21%

School Transport 21%

Bullying 14%

Issues with Special Needs Resources 12%

Issues with actions of Boards of Management 10%

Complaints relating to health

Decisions re children in care 33%

Adequacy of and access to HSE services 23%

Actions of HSE 17%

Child Protection 12%

HSE and Hospital policies/procedures 4%

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