Children being failed on mental health and housing – ombudsman

Reports highlights problems with suicide prevention, direct provision, Tusla and HSE

The ombudsman received 1,755 complaints last year, up 4 per cent on 2016 and 7 per cent since 2015. Above, Dr Niall Muldoon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The ombudsman received 1,755 complaints last year, up 4 per cent on 2016 and 7 per cent since 2015. Above, Dr Niall Muldoon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Lack of access for suicidal youths to emergency mental health services and the “stark failure” of the HSE and Tusla to act together in children’s best interests are among the issues highlighted in the 2017 annual report from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office.

Dr Niall Muldoon, in his report published on Wednesday, also says parents in direct provision are afraid to ask for improvements in their conditions in case it makes things worse for their children.

In addition he cites the “shame” of child homelessness, saying “we are tolerating a situation where almost 10,000 people are [homeless], including 3,500 children”.

The ombudsman received 1,755 complaints last year, up 4 per cent on 2016 and 7 per cent since 2015.

“This highlights a continued failure by public bodies to put the interests of children at the centre of their decisions,” says Dr Muldoon.

Education continues to account for the highest proportion of complaints, at 45 per cent, followed by child protection and welfare (22 per cent), health (14 per cent), justice (7 per cent) and housing (6 per cent).

“We have told the HSE we had serious concerns about how suicidal young people access emergency services and the difficulties faced in certain parts of the country,” states Dr Muldoon in the report. “All children who need an assessment of mental health in emergency departments should be able to access this quickly – not days after the event.”

The ombudsman was last year empowered to receive complaints from or on behalf of children in the 27 direct provision centres and three emergency and orientation centres

He received 57 complaints last year about children’s inability to access mental health services in a timely manner.

Direct provision

Children of asylum seekers in direct provision centres are experiencing poverty, stress, overcrowding and lack of access to cooking facilities, according to the report.

For the first time the ombudsman was last year empowered to receive complaints from or on behalf of children in the 27 direct provision centres and three emergency and orientation centres.

The office found “significant variations” in the standard and quality of centres, and Dr Muldoon is “deeply concerned” at the absence of both statutory guidelines on how they should be run and an independent inspectorate of centres.

“We received 29 individual complaints in 2017 from families [in direct provision] about a range of issues including financial supports, accommodation and other public services.”

The number of complaints was “low” but “not an indicator of an effective complaints-handling culture or fair and effective administration for children,” says the report.

From its investigations it is clear 'how invisible children can be in housing policy and decision-making, as they are seen as dependents rather than as individual rights holders'

“We believe the low number ... is due to a perception that making complaints would impact negatively on living conditions or lead to an undesirable transfer within the system.”

Little progress

On housing, it is “clear” says Dr Muldoon, that Rebuilding Ireland – the Government’s strategy on the housing crisis – has “made little progress”.

“There is an over-reliance on the private sector to provide housing and a failure to provide sufficient social housing.”

He calls for a “new way of thinking” and a move away from “prioritising financial interests that view housing as a commodity.

From its investigations it is clear “how invisible children can be in housing policy and decision-making, as they are seen as dependents rather than as individual rights holders,” says the report.

In one case a mother and two small children left their home due to domestic violence and waited almost two years to be housed. The children were “without a stable home for 20 months and living at times in poor-quality accommodation”.

The investigation concluded that the local authority had referred the mother to a unit for non-Irish families despite the fact she had residency, while the Dublin Region Homeless Executive had yet to develop quality standards for emergency accommodation. There was also undue bureaucracy associated with amending her application for social housing.