By Catherine Shanahan
Children are being let down by public bodies such as the HSE and Tusla who fail to keep their best interests at heart and by a mental health service where psychiatrists are not routinely available to suicidal young people.
The failings are highlighted in the Annual Report 2017 of the Ombudsman for Children, where the number of new complaints received in a single year hit an all-time high of 1,755, up 4% on 2016’s figures.
Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said State bodies responsible for children’s welfare need to show some “joined-up thinking” instead of abdicating responsibility, and that Tusla and An Garda Síochána need to speed up the co-location of child protection services.
Mr Muldoon was also critical of the slow progress in addressing child homelessness — currently around 3,500 children are homeless — warning that family hubs cannot become the norm.
He said health issues that generated complaints had changed little over the years, including access to psychology and speech and language services; waiting lists for hospital procedures; access to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and access to supports for children with disabilities.
The report refers to:
- The case of Aoife, a child with complex medical needs in need of home care. The HSE funded a private nursing agency to provide 84 hours per week but the HSE took over the service and her parents were told they could not leave the house while the nursing staff were there. When Aoife’s parents complained to the HSE, they were advised that the support was for nursing hours and not respite hours. Following intervention by the Ombudsman, the parents were told they could leave the house for 30 minutes;
- A complaint from a health care professional that there was no CAMHS consultant available to assess children in the area when they went to hospital with suicidal behaviour. This meant some children had to stay in hospital for days until a CAMHS consultant was available. The situation had been ongoing in the area for four years, every time the consultants were on leave, with up to 60 children affected during that time.When contacted by the Ombudsman, the HSE said there was a national shortage of psychiatrists and that some CAMHs consultants’ contracts prohibited them from providing cover when colleagues were on leave.
It emerged there is no cover at all in South Tipperary, Carlow/Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford.
Mr Muldoon said staffing problems in CAMHS meant “children experiencing escalating levels of stress and anxiety are often unable to access the emergency supports they need”.
The report includes, for the first time, complaints from children and families living in direct provision. In 2017, 29 complaints were received in relation to communication, accommodation and financial supports.
The Ombudsman points out that the Government has failed to implement a three-year-old recommendation to increase the direct provision allowance for children from €21.60 to €29.80.
Overall, education issues accounted for 45% of complaints, child protection and welfare for 22% and health for 14%, with the HSE accounting for the bulk of health complaints.