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Statement by the Ombudsman for Children on the Ferns’ Inquiry Report

Serious issues about child protection are raised in today’s report. While it deals with matters that took place between 1960s to 1980s, I have real concerns that as a society, we may not have yet learned sufficient lessons to ensure that our children are properly protected.

Unfortunately, abuse is still a reality for some children living in Ireland today. It is important for us as adults to acknowledge that abuse can happen anywhere. It is not confined to any one geographic location, nor to institutions. Although it may not happen under the same circumstances as detailed in the report this does not make it any less devastating to the lives of the children affected. Nor does it diminish, in anyway, our duty as a society to ensure that children are protected.

It is imperative that we create an environment where it is safe for a child to disclose abuse and where adults are empowered to respond. The current system is not child focused. Much of the responsibility to disclose is placed on the child, who has already suffered dreadful trauma.

We must make sure that proper supports are in place that encourage children to tell someone about what is happening to them, to make sure that when they do they are not only safe but are made to feel safe and to ensure the consequence of disclosure are managed sensitively. We must work together to create positive cultures for children and young people. We, as adults, have an obligation to ensure that we respect children and young people and that we foster environments where children and young people are afforded exactly the same respect, value and rights as anybody else over the age of eighteen. Children are experts of the own experiences. It is time we heard them.

I have previously called for our Constitution to be amended to include express rights for children. Today’s report makes it abundantly clear that children need to be protected at the highest level. Changes in policy and practice; to include interagency working, professional codes of conduct and care in the appointment of staff who has unsupervised access to children are needed. We have a role to advise Ministers in the promotion of children’s rights and welfare.

While the mandate of dealing with the child abuse lies with the statutory agencies, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office has a role in making sure that the agencies with responsibility for protecting child welfare respond to children in an appropriate way. Over the summer my Office has received a number of calls about the State response to child abuse cases. We will present a report to the Oireachtas before Christmas and it is our intention to make this report public.