Cases that made the headlines

Special Report Its finding in one case pointed up the critical role of the Office in ensuring that children’s voices are not silenced by adult interests

Fri, Apr 25, 2014, 01:00

When a complainant approaches the Children’s Ombudsman, he or she is usually focused on achieving a singular result. The philosophy of the Office, however, is to ensure, where possible, that through individual investigations systemic change can be achieved.

Take for example the 2011 investigation of School A which was reported by the media. A complaint was submitted by a mother and her daughter related to the refusal by School A to enrol the young woman on the grounds that she was pregnant. The school had indicated in writing, their unwillingness to enrol the girl when she was pregnant and later because she was a “single young mother”.

The Ombudsman initiated an investigation on the grounds that the actions of School A could have implications for other young people under 18 years wishing to enrol there.

The investigation raised concerns more generally about the governance and mechanisms of accountability in the school, which had no board of management, no documented enrolment policy and no documented complaints or appeals procedure.

The Children’ s Ombudsman concluded that improved regulatory procedures are required to ensure equity of access to education for children and young people. The case of School A has broader implications for the accountability of our school system; an issue that was raised with the Department of Education. The Department will soon publish legislation that will tighten up enrolment policies in all schools.

Many complaints that come to the Office relate to the HSE. A 2010 report by the Ombudsman for Children found that the HSE failed to provide appropriate support to a child who made allegations of sexual abuse.

In this case, the child’s mother reported that her daughter had been repeatedly raped by a third party and was at continuing risk, but that the HSE had failed to provide support for various stated reasons including lack of resources and unwillingness to deal with the parent in question.In addition to her finding that the HSE had failed in its duties in this specific case, the Ombudsman for Children made 10 recommendations that have broader implications for the way the new Child and Family Agency should engage with families in the future. These cover record-keeping, communication and failure to consider the views of the child.

The Ombudsman was particularly disturbed by “significant communication difficulties” between the HSE and the parent. In this case the rights of the child, which lie at the heart of the OCO’s mission, were compromised due to extraneous adult issues. This finding points up the critical role of the Office in ensuring that children’s voices are not drowned out by adult interests.

As the gatekeeper of 10,000 complaints in 10 years, the OCO is now in a leadership position when it comes to systemic change.

It’s already happening. Following concerns about the handling of child protection cases by the State, the Ombudsman initiated a two-year investigation into the State’s compliance with the Children First report resulting in 22 recommendations to improve child protection services. All the recommendations have been or are being addressed. On foot of one of the recommendations, Tusla, the new Child and Family Agency, took over from the HSE as the statutory body with responsibility for child protection.

In 2013 the Ombudsman developed a meta-analysis of issues facing children in care, which sets out ways to improve the care system. This document was laid before the House of the Oireachtas under Section 13 of the Ombudsman for Children Act, 2002.