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Government must act to promote rights of children with disabilities
Government must act to promote rights, and safeguard welfare, of children and young people with disabilities - Logan
It has often been said that disability is a human rights issue. Today, on United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons, it’s time for us to again acknowledge that fact, and to assess what needs to be done to ensure that children and young people with a disability have their needs met, their rights respected, and their welfare safeguarded.
Some of the recent steps that Ireland has taken regarding the vindication of the rights of children and young people with a disability have been encouraging. For example, Ireland was one of the first countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability earlier this year. As a statement of intent, this signature is important. However, what needs to happen now is the swiftest possible ratification of this Convention. The Government needs to prioritise the passing of any legislation that may be necessary to ensure that the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can be delivered – in a real and tangible way – to all children and young people.
For this reason, all of the Ombudsmen for Children in Council of Europe member states are today calling on European Governments to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability. We believe that, for children with a disability, this is a very important document which we want to see widely ratified. This Convention sets out to enhance the dignity, rights and well-being of all young people living with a disability.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability is the call for a cultural change regarding how we view disability. This is long overdue, and we all have a clear responsibility, and a role to play, in creating a more inclusive society that emphasises equality and non-discrimination for children with disabilities.
As Ombudsman for Children, I am keenly aware of the need to create this type of inclusive society. This year alone, my Office has received almost 700 complaints on behalf of children or from them directly. A very significant number of these complaints – almost 25% - related to issues of disability or an additional or special need. The lack of proper provision for children with disabilities is an issue which is raised with my Office all too frequently.
Recent research commissioned by my Office and undertaken by UCC found that children with disabilities face very significant obstacles in the realisation of their rights. My Office also consulted directly with children and young people with disabilities to get their views on the main difficulties facing them in accessing appropriate supports and services. Their views supported the research findings that children with disabilities face additional barriers in having their voices heard and that families often have to fight on behalf of their children for the provision of services.
So, on this the United National International Day of Disabled Persons, the Government and service providers should commit to doing a number of specific things which will help to bring about the type of cultural change that is needed to ensure that the rights of children and young people with a disability are respected, and vindicated.
The Government needs to recognise that educational services for young people with a disability are falling far short of the mark in some key areas, and for some individual children. Bringing about a cultural change regarding the rights of children with a disability means investing in the promotion and implementation of an inclusive education system at all levels. It also means facilitating access for children with a disability to all cultural, leisure and sporting activities.
The Government also needs to provide more information to children and young people with disabilities, and their peers and the general public, to combat existing negative stereotypes regarding disability. Allied with this action, we must promote positive images of children with disabilities, and build confidence, self-esteem and self-value.
Having recently conducted the most extensive consultation process which children and young people ever undertaken in Ireland, I believe that it is absolutely critical that we involve children with disabilities in policy planning. Those living with a disability are experts regarding their own living conditions. The right to exercise choice – taken for granted by adults in our society – cannot be denied to children and young people with disabilities. Services providers must engage with children, and ask them about the type of services and supports that they believe they need.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Government must acknowledge the duty of care that it holds towards children with intellectual disabilities who are in residential care. At present, there are no inspections of these residential care facilities, which I believe to be a glaring – and frightening – anomaly. This must be rectified immediately, and a system of independent inspection needs to be put in place for all residential centres without delay.
Cultural change takes time, but the time is now to begin this challenging process. Ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability – and making this Convention really mean something positive and tangible for children and young people with a disability – is something that the Government needs to prioritise.