PRESS RELEASE: Children’s Rights Alliance Calls For Protections For Ireland’s Most Vulnerable Families During Covid 19 Crisis, In Letter To An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Published date: 
27 Mar 2020

PRESS RELEASE

Children’s Rights Alliance Calls For Protections For Ireland’s Most Vulnerable Families During Covid 19 Crisis, In Letter To An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

The Children’s Rights Alliance welcomed new measures for the provision for out of school meals during Covid 19 crisis, while also suggesting solutions to other potential problem areas for vulnerable families, such as child protection and education, both online and in the community.

“Protecting our most vulnerable families during these unsettling times is the least we can do and they deserve the very best of our efforts, many of our children are finding themselves on the frontline because of the extraordinary circumstances in which we are living”, said Tanya Ward Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance.

“The new arrangements for the provision of out of school meals, are absolutely vital and the Children’s Rights Alliance welcome this move” said Ward. “One in ten Irish families experience food poverty. Now, during a global pandemic, the pressure is only increased for these families as many rely on breakfast clubs or school meals to access the food they need. The Government needs to continue to engage with service providers, critically early years settings, to reach the youngest and most vulnerable children.”

“However there are other problem areas including child protection, both online and within the community, education and child poverty”, said Ward.

In the letter to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, Tanya Ward CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, highlighted these areas of concern and possible solutions:

Child Protection:
“The usual community structures which provide shelter and support for many of our vulnerable children are now missing and this is a real concern”, she said. “We are concerned about children who are on the child protection notification register who, while they still have their social worker engaging with them are now without all the other community supports that would have been central to ensuring their safety such as school, homework clubs and other community supports. Many of these vulnerable children are now behind closed doors. We need the full community to play their part in keeping these children safe and we need to look at how other services can play their role to make sure these children are not hidden.”

Cyber Security:
Tanya Ward, has welcomed an initiative by CyberSafeIreland, who have put together a resource package for parents on online safety and positive online activities for children and young people. “While we are encouraging Children to go online now more than ever, we need to be mindful of their online safety” she said. The risk of accessing harmful content is heightened with children spending more time online and on their own devices. Children and young people are learning online now and spending time together. However, spending more time online also means that there are increased risks. We need to empower children to protect themselves and tool up parents about how they can support their children during this time.”

Children living in Direct Provision, emergency accommodation, domestic violence situations, households are experiencing particular issues where there are addiction issues and other vulnerable children.

The Children’s Rights Alliance is calling for alternative accommodation for families currently living in Direct Provision.
“Many families will find it impossible to adhere to the required physical distancing when living in direct provision centres or emergency accommodation, alternative accommodation should be sought as a matter of urgency”, said Ward.

The Children’s Rights Alliance has expressed particular concern about situations where children are now confided to living in inappropriate or potentially dangerous situations. Access to domestic violence services and supports may consequently be more difficult.
“We are asking Government to look at resourcing these organisations or enabling contact between vulnerable young people and supports they need by increasing connectivity and broadband access,” added Ward.

Education
The Alliance is calling for clarity on this year’s state exams and the position of young people who may have intended to leave school after their junior cert this year.
“We know these exams cause high levels of stress and anxiety for students in the normal school year, and we are now very far from their normal routine”, said Ward.
They are also calling for a coordinated effort in home schooling. A standardised template as to how schools should approach home learning in the coming weeks could be developed.

Children With Additional Needs
Services like play therapy and speech language therapy can no longer happen and Alliance members have raised concerns about how this would impact children and young people, particularly those in the autism community or those children for who routine is paramount. The Government can make this easier on families by providing advice and resources to for the home environment and put plans in place to allow for young people with additional needs, anxiety or mental health issues.
Tanya Ward added; “in the event of further restrictions, access to outdoor spaces could be vital; we could look at how measures like these have worked in Spain for example”.

One Parent Families
The Children’s Rights Alliance are concerned that one parent families are being unintentionally stigmatised in the current efforts at physical distancing. They are suggesting that retail outlets look at providing ‘family shopping hours’ to help one parent families.
“For people parenting alone, it may not be possible to go to a grocery shop or a Post Office without their child/children and we have heard of some cases where parents are being refused access” said Ward.
The additional social welfare payments are welcomed by the Children’s Rights Alliance but they have added that the Government needs to ensure that there are other ways to apply for payments apart from online as not all have access to the internet.

Children In Detention
“For children in detention centres, restrictions on family visits are particularly hard to take. It is more critical than ever that detention is a last resort. The young people in Oberstown for example, are at higher risk because unlike other primary and secondary students, they remain on site. There needs to be special measures to ensure their education and their own health and safety is not compromised,” said Tanya Ward.

Communication with children and young people
Children’s Rights Alliance members have raised concerns about the negative connotations surround young people in the current narrative around Covid19.
While praising the government’s efforts in communicating the dangers of the virus the Alliance have suggested that a more child centred communication is also required to really engage with young people with these important messages.
“Many young people are, like you or I, anxious about protecting their families and their friends” said Ward today. “Focusing on the minority who are not respecting social distancing is not a helpful way to engage with the vast majority of young people who are adhering to these restrictions and providing help to those around them. The Government needs to think of creative ways to encourage their participation in this collective fight.”

ENDS
Contact: Emma Archbold, Children’s Rights Alliance, Tel: 01-662 9400 / 0879971410, Email: emma.archbold@childrensrights.ie

Notes to Editor:
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance is available for interview by video or phone.
Children’s Rights Alliance Letter to the Government is available here.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance
• Founded in 1995, 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. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL.
• The Children’s Rights Alliance Helpline is open Mondays 10am to 2pm and Wednesdays 2pm to 7pm. If you have are looking for legal information or advice, please contact us on 01 902 0494 or email help@childrensrights.ie