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Uncertain Times for children highlighted in OCO’s 2023 Annual Report

A total of 1,790 complaints were made to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) about children’s public services in Ireland last year, with education once again the biggest concern, followed by health and complaints about Tusla. Uncertain Times, the OCO’s Annual Report for 2023, shows that complaints are becoming more complex, with one in five relating to more than one State agency.

After education (40%), health and Tusla were the most complained about topics (both 23%), along with housing (7%). While not in the OCO’s remit, a notable 4% of complaints related to Early Childhood Education and Care. This is significant as there is no robust oversight of the complaints mechanism. Most complaints were about children aged 10-14 years (33%), while 82% of complaints came from parents, and 3% from children themselves.

Commenting on Uncertain Times, the OCO’s Annual Report for 2023, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said:

“As the name of our report suggests, the main takeaway for us from last year, through complaints to our Office and from our own outreach work with children, is that there exists a climate of uncertainty and instability for many children in Ireland at the moment.

“Children’s issues are fighting for Government’s attention at a time when there is a housing crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, an international protection crisis, and when our public services are under increasing pressure.

“These issues are all having an unquantifiable impact on children too, yet they are not necessarily seen as children’s issues, thus protecting the State from having to properly fulfil its obligation to them.

“We see this particularly when it comes to children’s health and mental health services, and for children with disabilities, whose parents often have to fight tooth and nail for an appropriate school place for their child.

“Children are still waiting far too long for vital, life-changing spinal surgeries and our Children’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are not uniformly of a high standard across the board. In some parts of the country, as the Mental Health Commission Review showed last year, these services are completely unfit for purpose.

“There are some parents of children with complex disabilities who are being forced to leave their children at hospitals and special schools in the hope of triggering the right supports and services they need to care for them at home. While we are also still concerned about the safety and welfare of children in Direct Provision.

“Homelessness and family homelessness in particular is at an all-time high, with the number of children without a home surpassing the 4,000 mark at the start of the year. And yet Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world. For many children thankfully, Ireland is indeed a great place to grow up in and they are living happy and fulfilled lives. But this is not the case for all.

“Uncertainty is not good for any of us, but for children it can be extremely challenging, and often damaging. These are all issues we have highlighted in investigations and reports last year, and will continue to raise with Government and policy makers this year, as we are on the precipice of a General Election.”