Progress in education and literacy among children is being countered by a failure to tackle food poverty and discrimination against immigrant and Traveller families, the Children’s Rights Alliance has said in its latest Government “report card”.
The umbrella group, representing more than 100 organisations working on children’s welfare and rights, awarded the Government a C grade for 2014, “reflecting a satisfactory attempt to date, but with scope for significant improvement”.
The annual report card, which gave the Government the same grade last year, rates its performance on issues and policies affecting children against its commitments in the Programme for Government 2011-2016.
In 2012, the Government received its highest grade of C+ following the creation of a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs with full cabinet status, and today alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said this innovation was continuing to have "a positive impact".
However, she said agencies were seeing more food poverty among children than ever before, and the Government needed to work harder “to make sure very marginalised children are not left out in the cold”.
Citing the lower life expectancy of Travellers, she said policy had been agreed to address issues of inequality and non-descrimination but “we need a champion for Travellers” within Government to push the reforms through.
The other main area of concern lack of investment in mental health care services. Ms Ward said the Government had broken its promises with €35 million in ring-fenced funding for such services “now standing at only €20 million”.
Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness said it was a "disgrace" that infant mortality rates among Travellers were 3.6 times of those in the general population, adding discrimination against Roma children also needed to be tackled urgently.
Noting that more than 10 per cent of school-going children come from a migrant background, she said the policy of direct provision for asylum seekers and their children was detrimental to their welfare, and a more humane system should be introduced immediately.
Ms McGuinness expressed particular concern about cases emerging in the children’s courts of minors being taken into care because their mothers had been “worn down” by the direct provision system.
While the opening up of the courts to media reporting was not covered in the report card, she said it had been a “good thing”, provided the media treated proceedings with appropriate discretion.
Also speaking on legislative reform, Ms Ward noted that the children’s rights referendum had yet to be implemented due to a legal challenge now before the Supreme Court. If the appeal is upheld the Government should commit to holding another referendum, she said.
Asked what impact the proposed referendum on marriage equality would have on future report cards, Ms Ward said the board of the alliance had “decided the referendum is really not about children; it’s about a legal agreement between their parents”.
On that basis, the alliance has not taken a formal position but believed that children “should not be punished” or discriminated against in any family arrangement, whether their parents were married or not.
Report card main headings :
(Last year’s marks in brackets):
Children’s rights referendum & implementation: B (A)
Early childhood care and education: C+ (B-)
Child literacy: A- (B+)
Children with special educational needs: C- (D)
School Buildings: C- (D)
Primary Care: C (D)
Mental health: E (D-)
Child poverty E- (F)
Youth homelessness C+ (C-)
Migrant children F (E)