Monday, 23rd February 2015
Government is Failing Children Living in Poverty
– Children’s Rights Alliance Publishes Report Card 2015–
The recession had a devastating impact on children, and the Government is continuing to fail children living in poverty. That’s according to the Children’s Rights Alliance, which launched its 2015 Report Card today (23.02.15).
The Report Card grades the Government’s performance on issues affecting children against stated commitments in the Programme for Government 2011-2016.
The Government receives an overall ‘C’ grade from the Children’s Rights Alliance this year, reflecting a satisfactory attempt, but with scope for significant improvement. The grade has remained the same since 2013, following a peak of a ‘C+’ grade in 2012.
Speaking at today’s launch, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “The number of children experiencing consistent poverty has doubled since the beginning of the downturn in 2008. We can only conclude that children were, and continue to be, the real victims of the recession. In its last year in office, how will the Government respond to these children?
The area of child poverty gets an ‘F’ grade in the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card, the worst grade of all areas this year and a fall from last year’s ‘E-’ grade. A 2014 UNICEF report found Irish families with children lost the equivalent of ten years of income progress, and Ireland ranked 37th of 41 OECD countries in their league table measuring relative changes in child poverty
“2014 saw families continue to struggle with rising rent prices, utility bills, personal debt, homelessness and food poverty. Although the Government introduced a small monthly increase in the Child Benefit payment for the first time in seven years, this was not enough. As we emerge from recession, the Government must place the wellbeing of children at the top of its agenda. We cannot continue to forget those children who are consistently left on the margins.”
Ms. Ward commented: “It is hoped that the upturn in the economy, coupled with reductions in the unemployment rate and increases in job creation, will be reflected in lower child poverty figures over the coming years.
“However, for this to happen, the Government must uphold its international obligations and ensure children’s rights are implemented to the fullest extent, even when resources are limited. The Children’s Rights Alliance is calling for the Government to publish an ambitious rights-based implementation plan to achieve the Child Poverty Target as a matter of urgency. In addition, each department should carry out a social impact assessment in advance of budgetary decisions, ensuring Budget 2016 is poverty-proofed so that, even in times of recession, children’s rights are respected.”
Issue-by-Issue Grades and Recommendations
According to the Children’s Rights Alliance, other areas where improvements are urgently needed include mental health, homelessness, and in the area of equality for Traveller, Roma children and migrant children. The report card published today includes the following recommendations:
The area of mental health receives an ‘E’ grade, reflecting the continued and inappropriate and unnecessary use of adult inpatient facilities for children. However, the identification by the HSE of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services as a key Service Improvement Project for 2015 is to be welcomed, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance.
Homelessness among families with children hit crisis levels in 2014, with an average of 40 families becoming homeless each month, up from 20 families per month in 2013. This increase is set against a backdrop of over 96,000 households on the social housing list on which people wait for up to 10 years for a home. While there was a significant budget allocation for housing in Budget 2015, there is neither a national policy on the needs of children within homeless families nor a national target specific to reducing homelessness amongst families with children.
Some Positive Achievements
Two ‘A’ grades appear in Report Card 2015 for the first time both in the area of education on literacy and school buildings. Child literacy receives an ‘A’ grade in recognition of “the first significant improvements in literacy and numeracy in primary schools in 30 years”, resulting in the reaching of the targets set for 2020. Progress in the increase in new school buildings and the move away from prefabs across the country in 2014 resulted in the second ‘A’ grade in this section.
The issue of inequalities in family life receives a ‘B’ grade, a significant rise from last year’s ‘D+’ grade. Publication of the Children and Family Relationships Bill marked a significant milestone for children of all families by providing the legal link that is missing in many non-traditional families. However, the report states that the lack of a Central Register for Statutory Declarations for Joint Guardianship continues to cause problems for some unmarried fathers who have not retained a copy of the declaration and are unable to prove they are a joint guardian.
“It is important to highlight that there have been some positive achievements in the past year,” said Tanya Ward. “This is particularly true in the area of child literacy, with the first significant improvement in child literacy and numeracy scores in 30 years.
“We also welcome the Government spearheading the plain packaging legislation and taking bold steps for children to reduce the incidence of smoking and deter young people from smoking.
“The Child and Family Agency also had its first successful year, and the recently approved Children and Family Relationships Bill demonstrates a real willingness by Government to ensure children experiencing inequalities in family life are protected. This Bill provides a unique opportunity to provide legal recognition to the many different and diverse family relationships that exist in modern-day Ireland. We look forward to hearing the outcome of this week’s debate and hope the bill will be enacted by 24th March to reform the law on parentage, guardianship, custody and access.”
Speaking at today’s Report Card launch, Paul Gilligan, Chair of the Children’s Rights Alliance and CEO of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services said: “That children are still being admitted into adult mental health in-patient units is extremely disappointing. The Irish State is failing children with mental health needs. This is not only a violation of these children’s basic rights but such practice will undoubtedly have long term consequences for the children themselves, their families and society.”
Also speaking at today’s launch, Professor Ursula Kilkelly from University College Cork said: “After many years, progress is finally being made towards the removal of children from prisons in Ireland. Ireland has the opportunity to be an international leader here in driving down the numbers of children in detention and the elimination of children completely from adult prisons. In the Report Card, further steps can be seen this year but this work – and a range of other concerns in the youth justice system – are not yet fully addressed.”
Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardos noted: “A couple of weeks ago the Taoiseach did an interview on RTÉ radio in which he described the issue of child poverty as a “moral imperative” for any government. Despite that the number of children living in consistent poverty has dramatically increased since the recession started. It is undeniable that public policy has played a significant role in this increase. Not only has no progress been made in meeting the national target to reduce child poverty but the situation has gotten steadily worse. Child poverty remains not just a moral imperative but a national scandal.”
On the topic of early childhood education, Visiting Professor to Trinity College Dublin, Noirin Hayes said today: “It’s not unexpected to see the drop in grade for early childhood care and education in this year’s Report Card. The delay in finalising the Early Years Strategy is disappointing given the publication, by the DCYA, of the early years advisory group report ‘Right from the Start’ in 2013. How many more generations of children will pass through inadequately funded and supported early years settings while the government delays implementation of an integrated strategy with sufficient investment to ensure quality and show respect for the rights and needs of our youngest children and their families?”
The full 2015 Report Card from the Children’s Rights Alliance is available at: www.childrensrights.ie.
Contact: Sarah Harte, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-9858259
Note to Editors:
About The Children’s Rights Alliance
The Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. We change the lives of all children in Ireland by making sure that their rights are respected and protected in our laws, policies and services.