Joint Submission to the Government and Opposition by Barnardos, CARI, Children’s Rights Alliance, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, ISPCC and One in Four
We do not claim the right to speak on behalf of the survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland. They have their own authentic voice, which must never be silenced again. Their courage and honesty has been vindicated by the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and they have imposed on all of us the obligation to come to terms with the fact that the rights of children were traduced for generations in Ireland. The children sent to industrial schools and reformatories were our “disappeared”, and the way in which they were treated can only be seen as a source of national shame.
We will compound that shame if there is a failure to act now, to ensure that no child in Ireland can ever be treated in the same way again. We have to be totally honest about the situation in which too many vulnerable children still find themselves in Ireland, about the lack of family support in times of difficulty, about the inadequacy of child protection and services for children. We have to find the resources and the will to put these things right. There will be no excuse if in a future generation a new Commission finds that even with all we know, Ireland is still not a place that values childhood and respects and protects children.
We believe the following seven point plan must be adopted, as part of the national response to the publication of the report of the Commission.
Point 1: The survivors of abuse must be recognised as having an absolute entitlement to well-resourced counselling, support and advocacy services. Any cloud over the future of such services must be removed.
Point 2: We call for an immediate re-commitment to a referendum on the rights of children. Rather than long-fingering the process, there is need for all-Party debate and agreement on this issue, and for a referendum to take place no later than the date of the likely referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. We believe there should be no summer recess of the Dáil while this issue is outstanding.
Point 3: It is absolutely vital that the national Guidelines on Child Protection, if they are to be uniformly and consistently implemented, as called for by the Commission, must be put on a statutory basis. We call for the establishment of a single national authority, which need not be a large or unwieldy body, but which should have the following functions:
- to take responsibility for the constant updating and implementation of standards, and to publish standards which have statutory and binding effect on everyone who works with children;
- to monitor adherence to standards in public and private bodies (including church bodies) and to publish regular reports of non-compliance;
- to initiate proceedings where necessary against bodies that fail to comply with standards, or to make recommendations about the withholding of public grants where bodies fail to comply;
- to provide a forum where the voices of children can be heard, and to ensure that all complaints are properly investigated by the relevant authorities.
Point 4: We must immediately come to a point where standards and inspection, independently operated, must apply to every situation where a child is in care. The Ombudsman for Children has pointed out the areas where there are no standards and no inspection at present – children with disabilities in residential settings, children in St Patricks Institution, and separated children. These situations are scandals waiting to happen.
Point 5: The resources necessary to put a proper system of child protection in place – including services outside normal hours – must be provided. For as long as vulnerable children await basic assessment of their needs and the risks to which they are exposed, we face the very real possibility that many more children will be irreparably damaged.
Point 6: There must be a national therapy and assessment service for children who are currently suffering abuse, and national treatment facilities for children, teenagers and adults who have exhibited sexually harmful behaviour must be put in place, as a child protection measure.
Point 7: we must recognise the risks facing children who are adrift. Child prostitution is real in Ireland, as is homelessness among children. Too many children are missing and intensely vulnerable. The resources must be put in place to ensure that services to those children are commensurate with their needs.
We need to take these steps now. We now know, beyond the capacity of anyone to deny it, that over generations Ireland sent 170,000 of its children to places where abuse, torture and degradation were commonplace. Children today are entitled to one guarantee, if no other: nothing like this will ever be allowed to happen to any child in Ireland again.
Fergus Finlay, Barnardos 087 624 0717
Mary Flaherty, CARI 087 958 2250
Jillian van Turnhout, CRA 087 233 3784
Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, DRCC 086 809 9618
Ashley Balbirnie, ISPCC 087 989 0620
Maeve Lewis, One in Four 087 757 4080