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Press release: The Ombudsman for Children publishes 2020 Childhood Paused: Annual Report

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) today (Wednesday, June 16th) is publishing 2020 Childhood Paused, its Annual Report for 2020.

Complaints to the Ombudsman for Children remained high in 2020 despite the pandemic, however fewer complaints were made than in 2019.

The OCO received 1,187 complaints in 2020 – 316 fewer than 2019, as many services were closed. The OCO expects the number of complaints to increase in 2021 as new issues emerge.

In 2020 6% of the complaints made to the OCO came directly from children, this is an increase from 3% in 2019. This increase can largely be attributed to those who contacted us in relation to education issues and is an indication of the level of upset among students. 100% of the children who contacted the OCO mentioned the impact of the pandemic on their mental health of children.


Once again, the main area of the public service people complained about in 2020 was education – making up 46% of complaints. In 2019 49% of complaints were about education.

New issues that came up in 2020 included:

  • Remote learning and the digital divide
  • Lack of clarity about State examinations
  • Mental impact on young people
  • Calculated grades
  • Children in high risk households who feared bringing Covid-19 home
  • Impact on children with special educational needs


The OCO was in continuous contact with the Minister for Education and the Department of Education during 2020 putting forward the concerns of students and their families. The OCO engaged robustly, challenging suggested plans and putting forward possible solutions on behalf of children. The OCO consistently stressed the adverse effect that this very stressful time was having on children’s mental health.

Speaking ahead of the launch the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said there can be no return to “normal” for children after the pandemic.

“While this is my sixth annual report as the Ombudsman for Children, the report for 2020 is one like no other in terms of the new issues that emerged and the number of children complaining to us directly.”

“2020 was a devastating year for children. We heard heart-breaking stories of children with additional needs regressing and about the turmoil the uncertainty caused. Children were grappling with the digital divide and they worried about parents who had lost their jobs as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy.”

“More children contacted the Office themselves to complain about issues last year which is positive and down to our outreach but it also shows how the voice of the child was not being heard by Government and decision makers.”

“Many children with parents or siblings who were medically high risk, wrote to us expressing their fears of causing the death of that parent or sibling. Many were facing into their exam years and had been told by their schools there was nothing they could do to help them if they decided to self isolate because of a family member.”

“We believe firmly in keeping the voice of the child to the fore and I was delighted the Department of Children was retained rather than subsumed last year, however its status or retention should have never been up for discussion.”

“It is important that we hear and see young people so I am delighted to be launching the report in a St Mary’s Holy Faith School in Killester. I will be joined by students who will tell us about the impact the pandemic has had on young people and they will share their views on what we can learn from the past 16 months.”

“While we were all told to stay at home, it is not always a safe place, and we fear that children who were at risk of abuse or neglect and other issues that went under the radar due to school closures will come to the fore this year.”

“Looking ahead, I have spoken of the need for a Covid dividend for children. There can be no return to the old normal  – where babies learn to crawl in emergency accommodation, teenagers in severe physical pain wait years for scoliosis operations or those in mental turmoil wait years for psychological intervention and where Traveller children are bullied for where they live. That is not the normal we should accept any longer.”

“The pandemic has shown the need for proper investment to bridge the inequality gap and ensure all children are given the support they need to thrive.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to reflect on the huge learnings since the pandemic started and recognise how much we can do when we focus on what can be done instead of what can not. We must build upon the momentum and transformative change that was the hallmark of the pandemic and use this energy to ensure no child is left behind.”


Note to Editors

2020 Childhood Paused: Annual Report will be available on from 6am Wednesday June 16th.

Invitations to the launch have been circulated in advance to the media to ensure adherence to Covid-19 guidelines and social distancing.

Maxwells photography will send photos to picture desks at midday on Wednesday June 16th.

Where we received the most complaints from:

Dublin 30%

Cork 14%

Kildare 5%

Where we received the lowest number of complaints

Longford 0.5%

Laois  1%

Carlow 1%


Childhood Paused – Annual Report 2020 includes the following case studies and issues we worked on during 2020

–       Remote learning and the digital divide – P.16

–       Children living in very high risk households – P.17

–       Calculated grades – P.19

–       Reduced timetables the only option for child with autism – P.19

–       Homecare support for boy with complex health needs  – P.23

–       Direct Division – Life in Direct Provision during lockdown – P.26

  • The Ombudsman for Children’s Office is an independent statutory body with an overall mandate to promote the rights and welfare of children under the age of 18 living in Ireland.
  • Among the Ombudsman for Children’s core statutory functions is the independent and impartial investigation of complaints made by, or on behalf of, children in relation to public bodies, as well as organisations providing services on behalf of the State.