Children's ombudsman to be appointed


THE Government is to appoint an ombudsman for children.

The Minister of State, Mr Austin Currie, said last night that, in addition, each of the eight regional health boards is to appoint an official to co-ordinate efforts to protect children.

The moves are among a range of measures to be implemented instead of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse, which has now been postponed for at least three years.

The announcement caps a month in which Mr Currie has published a Children's Bill to old legislation on juvenile justice and has brought the last of the 1991 Child Care into effect.

The new Office of Ombudsman for Children will promote and protect children's rights, Mr Currie said. The exact details of how it is to operate will be worked out by a Cabinet sub-committee which he chairs.

Mr Currie told The Irish Times that children, parents and agencies will be able to bring complaints to the ombudsman.

Other measures announced last night and which Mr Currie says will be implemented as early as possible in the new year include support services by health boards for victims of past abuse child protection committees at regional and local levels to ensure that agencies and professionals are cooperating in child protection work and training for child care professionals on how best to respond to cases of neglect and of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, a Social Services Inspectorate, to be established next year, will review child abuse guidelines and the arrangements for co-operation between gardai and social workers.

In postponing the introduction of mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse, Mr Currie is acting in line with the consensus among social workers and health boards. They argue that the system could collapse under the strain of investigating allegations.

On the other hand, Barnardos and the ISPCC argue that services should be expanded or reorganised to meet the extra demand.

Mr Currie said the new initiatives will be evaluated over the next three years and a decision on whether to introduce mandatory reporting will be taken then.