Irish children are being ‘pushed out of a family law system that is crying out for reform’ and where young people’s voices are not heard, according to the head of the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA).
The majority of calls to the CRA’s helpline, which launched last year, came from children and their parents who feel the opinions of young people are not being taken into account in family law proceedings, chief executive Tanya Ward said.
The first annual report into the helpline and legal advice clinics has called for clearer information to be provided to children who do not understand judgements made in family law cases.
While under-18s have many rights and protections under Irish law, they continue to experience discrimination or find their rights are not being respected, the report said.
Ms Ward warned of “potentially significant problems” within the Irish legal, education and healthcare system, none of which “were built with children’s rights blueprints”.
More than 60 per cent of the over 300 calls received by the helpline in the past year came from parents, while 7 per cent came from children. Most involved queries around family law, while others concerned children’s rights, education, immigration and child protection issues.
Most children who contacted the helpline were concerned about personal rights, such as what age they could participate in a protest and what age a child could consent to medical treatment. Calls around immigration included requests for support from young people facing deportation and questions around how families could transfer from a direct provision centre. Some children reported experiencing racism while other sought advice on the rights of unaccompanied minors and undocumented children.
More than a quarter of calls from parents related to family law and concerns that their child’s view was not adequately being heard in court, especially in access disputes. Some parents were not aware that their child had the right to be heard in court. Parents contacting the helpline also wanted to know how to secure a place in an appropriate school for a child with a disability or what to do when a child with a disability is placed on a reduced timetable.
Parents of children with disabilities looked for information around respite care, access to special needs assistant support, access to mental healthcare, information on reduced school hours and access to school places for children with autism.
Ms Ward warned that a lot more needed to be done to ensure family law, children protection, education and disability services properly serve children “at very vulnerable points of their lives”.
The report also warned that accessing legal advice specifically on children’s rights was “almost impossible for most families” and that children under 18 had no enforceable right to legal aid or advice.