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The Ombudsman for Children publishes Annual Report 2021: Resilience Tested

79% increase in complaints to Ombudsman for Children with education issues dominating

Resilience Tested; The Ombudsman for Children’s Office Annual Report 2021

There was a 79% increase in the number of complaints to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office
(OCO) in 2021 reflecting the disruption experienced by children, particularly in the area of education.
Resilience Tested; The Ombudsman for Children’s Office Annual Report 2021 reflects the challenges
faced by children, families and public services last year to ‘keep going’ in the face of restrictions and
lockdowns.

In 2021 there were 2,126 complaints made to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, with 908 of
these directly related to Covid-19 issues. These issues included restrictions in schools, uncertainty
surrounding the Leaving Certificate, facemasks and supports for children with disabilities.
For many years education has been the subject of most complaints to the OCO and this was the case
again in 2021, with 53% of complaints relating to education. In keeping with previous years, bullying
again accounted for 10% of education related complaints.

Resilience Tested also features the stories of some of the children the OCO worked on behalf of last
year; the faces behind the figures. This includes James Jnr and Rosie* whose family were finally
moved to a permanent home after living in sub-standard emergency accommodation for three
years, and whose parents say are now like ‘new children’.

We also hear how 12-year-old Ella*, who has dyslexia, finally received a laptop for her schoolwork
after much delay, and how her case led to training being provided so no other child is impacted by a
similar issue.

Speaking ahead of the publication of Resilience Tested, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall
Muldoon said:
“The OCO received a record number of complaints on behalf of children and young people last year,
with a 79% increase on 2020. While some of this can be attributed to a resumption of services
following the blanket closures of 2020, a large proportion of complaints related directly to Covid-19
issues.

“Children are often recognised for their ability to learn, to adapt, to endure difficulties, to recover
and to accept change. But even the strongest of us have our limits and in 2021 even the most
resilient child was tested.

“In 2021 children, and indeed the public services providing for them, had to simply ‘get on with it’.
Children were expected to make-do with the stop-start nature of school, they were expected to
make friends behind masks, and they were expected to accept the cancelled plans, the curtailed
experiences.

“The impact of the past two years can be clearly seen in the issues being raised with the OCO and I
expect that there will be a knock-on effect for years to come.

“It is vital that we take the learnings from the pandemic to bring about change for children. An
investment in children’s futures and commitment from Government is needed to ensure that we do
not miss the opportunity to do things better.

“In 2021 the OCO published reports on Traveller issues, Direct Provision and the barriers facing
children with disabilities. The scourge of child homelessness and poverty also remain of huge
concern to us, and our Better Normal proposal to eradicate these issues was debated in the Dáil last
year.

“It is clear that children are still experiencing delays in accessing services and Government
departments and agencies still need to be more child centred. The pandemic has shown like never
before how children’s best interests need to be at the centre of decisions affecting them, which
wasn’t always the case in 2021.”