Thursday 25 June 2009: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ALLIANCE CALLS FOR 24 ACTIONS IN MINISTER FOR CHILDREN’S RYAN IMPLEMENTATION PLAN
The Children’s Rights Alliance has today issued a report, Learning From the Past: Responding to the Recommendations of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse Report, which lists 24 immediate actions that the Government should include in its official response to the Ryan Report. This paper has been delivered to the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to assist in the formulation of the Government’s Implementation Plan, which is due to be published at the end of July. Of the 24 immediate actions listed by the Alliance (a coalition of over 90 NGOs working for the rights and needs of children in Ireland) exactly half are directed at the care system and a further quarter at the child protection services.
Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Alliance, says: ‘We believe that the Government can take immediate actions that will make a real difference to the lives of those who must live with the after-effects of their broken childhoods and for the generations of children to come. The Alliance endorses the recommendations of the Ryan Report, which has led Ireland to a crossroads: we either take action or we do not. Countless reports have gone before, all reiterating the same recommendations; the Government must now provide us with an implementation plan that ensures that the State is never again accused of not listening to children, not responding to abuse allegations, and not taking active steps to keep children safe and vindicate their rights. One of the key and over-arching recommendations is for the creation of a “living memorial”, through the successful passage of a children’s rights constitutional amendment. Society needs to believe that, never again, will children in Ireland suffer the same abuses of the 30,000 children outlined in the Ryan Report.’
The 32-page Alliance paper showcases the huge, inherent gaps in the Irish care system, which serve to only endanger and damage the lives of vulnerable children. For example, the Alliance clearly demonstrates how several groups of children, of significant number, are currently not included in the official statistics on children in care, including 391 homeless children, 374 children with disabilities, 156 separated children, and 177 children who are either in children detention schools or adult prisons. These children fall through the gaps, as they fail to be covered by the National Children’s Standards for children in care. This must be tackled by Minister Andrews’ Implementation Plan.
Key immediate actions include placing the Children First guidelines and the Garda Vetting Unit on a statutory footing; ending the detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution and the immediate delivery of a new child-centred detention facility; developing and enhancing a social work service that meets the needs of abuse victims; facilitating consultation with children in care; the development of a child death review committee; more funding for the counselling of abuse victims; and real investment in preventive and early intervention services to shift towards a family support model rather than a crisis interventionist one. The Alliance’s paper also reiterates its recent call to create a ‘living memorial’ to the victims of abuse in industrial schools across Ireland, by strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution.
The Alliance has called for the independent monitoring of the State’s progress on implementing the Ryan Report recommendations and for the Special Rapporteurs on Child Protection, Professor Finbarr McAuley and Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, to map out the legal framework. Mrs van Turnhout comments: ‘This is to ensure that the Ryan Report moves beyond rhetoric and guarantees that there will be no need for any of its recommendations to be reiterated in any future reports. We cannot afford for the Ryan Report to gather dust, which has been the unfortunate demise of so many other reports.’
Anyone who is emotionally distressed by the content of this release, or media coverage of the report, can phone the Samaritans on 1850 60 90 90 to talk in confidence.
For further information, please contact:
Carys Thomas, Communications Director
Tel: (01) 662 9400 / 087-7702845; Fax: (01) 662 9355
Notes to Editors:
• Further copies of the Alliance paper can be found at www.childrensrights.ie or by contacting Carys Thomas.
• Successive reports have issued similar recommendations to those contained in the Ryan Report, including the November 2006 report of the Joint Committee on Child Protection and the September 2008 and April 2009 reports of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, the Redacted Report of the Monageer Inquiry, the Ferns Report, the two UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reports etc.
List of Alliance Actions:
1. Create a ‘living memorial’ through promoting the successful passage of a children’s rights constitutional amendment. We call on all political parties to work together under the auspices of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children to reach political consensus on proposed wording for a constitutional amendment to strengthen children’s rights, which should be placed before the Irish People as soon as is practicable.
2. All children’s policies and laws must be based on, and consistent with, the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland ratified in 1992.
3. Ensure the next National Children’s Strategy, beginning in 2010, is rights-based; and fully implement the Agenda for Children’s Services.
The care and child protection systems must be reformed to restore public confidence.
Actions specific to the care system
1. Bring all children in care under the cover of the national standards for children in care – in particular children with disabilities, separated children and children in St. Patrick’s Institution.
2. Reform the Social Services Inspectorate to create one independent inspectorate reporting directly to the Oireachtas and strengthen their mechanisms to enforce compliance with the national standards. Ensure that all care settings are inspected by the Inspectorate.
3. Raise awareness among children in care of their right to communicate complaints without fear, and of the range of channels they can use to make a complaint.
4. Support stability in care placements and the retention of social workers and key workers to provide children with a consistent care figure.
5. Ensure that all necessary supports are provided to children in care and their carers to avoid placement breakdowns.
6. Establish a mechanism to consult with children in care and those leaving care on the positives and negatives of their care experience, and act on their views to the benefit of other children.
7. Provide adequate levels of support facilitate regular access visits and contact between children in care and their families, once it has been established that this is in the child’s best interests.
8. Address the poor quality of data relating to children in care. Commence a national study of children in care, and those that leave care to inform future policy and planning of services.
9. Ensure processes are in place to communicate information to children in care and to retain reports, files and records essential to validate the child’s identity and history.
10. Instigate a programme of work to tackle the weaknesses of the HSE care system:
• Where possible, families should be supported to prevent children from coming into care and to speed up their return home, if this is in the child’s best interest.
• Provide every child in care with an assigned social worker, a regular and timely care plan review, access to an external complaints mechanism and independent inspection.
• Ensure all care staff and carers (including relative foster carers) are assessed, vetted, trained and supported, and undergo regular reviews.
• Respond to particular needs of children, including specialised mental health and other supports.
11. Undertake necessary legislative change to uphold the rights of children:
• Amend Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 to provide all children who have been in care with a statutory entitlement to aftercare support; and develop comprehensive aftercare support services.
• Publish and enact legislation to allow the High Court to have exclusive statutory jurisdiction to hear Special Care cases.
• Amend the Child Care Act 1991 to bring all homeless children under Part 4 of the Act to provide them with a statutory entitlement to care and protection, as opposed to mere ‘accommodation’.
12. Provide appropriate accommodation to vindicate the rights of children. This includes:
• Close privately run hostels for separated children; and accommodate separated children in mainstream care on a par with all other children in the care system.
• End the inappropriate placing of children in adult prisons; and proceed with the building of a new child-centred detention facility without delay.
• End the inappropriate placing of children in adult psychiatric units through the provision of a sufficient number of appropriate residential adolescent beds.
Actions specific to child protection services
13. Fund a range of counselling and therapeutic services for victims of abuse to be provided by a combination of statutory and voluntary organisations; reduce waiting lists for such services.
14. Place the Children First guidelines (1999) on a statutory footing.
15. Establish an independent national authority to monitor compliance with the Children First guidelines.
16. Place the Garda Vetting Unit on a statutory footing, and legislate for soft information vetting, in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children (September 2008).
17. Establish a child death review committee to review child deaths in suspicious circumstances and all deaths of children in care or known to the HSE.
18. Instigate a programme of work to tackle the weaknesses of the social work system:
• Ensure that each and every call to report an allegation of child abuse is answered and responded to within an appropriate time period.
• Address the waiting lists for social work assessment.
• Develop and enhance the social work service so it is adequate to meet its statutory duty to children.
Other specific actions
19. Invest in preventive and early intervention services to refocus our services away from crisis intervention. A network of community based multi-disciplinary teams of professionals, delivering preventive and therapeutic services, would have a lifelong impact on the wellbeing of children and families, including their demands on social services. There is need for a strategic, integrated approach to family support and early intervention; this should be coordinated by the Office of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
20. Appoint an independent person (not connected to the HSE or religious congregations, and reporting directly to the Oireachtas) to monitor the State’s progress on implementing the Ryan Report recommendations.
21. Request the Special Rapporteurs on Child Protection, Professor Finbarr McAuley and Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, to map out the legal framework necessary to ensure the implementation of any actions, on foot of the Ryan Report recommendations. Decisions to take action on the Rapporteurs’ recommendations should be taken within one month of their publication, by the appropriate Oireachtas Committee.