Ombudsman for Children notes 22% surge in complaints
COMPLAINTS TO the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan increased by 22 per cent last year, according to her office’s annual report.
Her office investigated 1,393 new complaints in 2011, with almost half of them relating to education and 32 per cent to health.
Grievances concerning education were up 9 per cent on the previous year with the most common being about the failure of teachers or principals to address worries raised by parents and changes to the provision of school transport.
Bullying, special needs resources and problems with boards of management accounted for the rest.
Decisions about children in care and the adequacy of, and access to, Health Service Executive services were the most common complaints received about health.
Parents made 76 per cent of complaints to the ombudsman.
Ms Logan said she was unsurprised by the rise in grievances 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.
The “stock answer” of insufficient resources to provide services to children was not good enough, she added.
“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 had to take to achieve State support for their children were problems that arose year after year.
Lack of interaction with the public and the absence of child-impact analysis were also identified as recurrent problems brought to Ms Logan’s attention.
The ombudsman said investigations undertaken on foot of individual complaints brought by a child or a family could identify the necessity for change that could then benefit many children.
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-reaching 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 deserves the respect and dignity that any other young person who is attending school receives,” she said.
GRIEVANCE STATISTICS: BY THE NUMBERS
OF THE 1,393 new complaints received by Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan in 2011, 47% related to education, 32% to health, 5% to justice and 4% to housing/planning.
A further 12% did not fall into any of these categories.
The majority related to social welfare allowance/payments for children.
Breakdown of complaints relating to education:
Actions of Teacher/Principal 21%
School Transport 21%
Problems with Special Needs Resources 12%
Problems with actions of Boards of Management 10%
Breakdown of complaints relating to health:
Decisions on 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%