‘A Better Normal’ – Eradicating child poverty post-COVID

‘A Better Normal’ – Eradicating child poverty post-COVID
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On the 21st of September, statements were made in the Dáil on the Ombudsman for Children’s Initiative: ‘A Better Normal’ – Eliminating poverty and child homelessness post-COVID.

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office is calling for the establishment of a time-limited, cross-departmental Joint Oireachtas Committee to bring together Government departments, those working in the children’s sector and other experts to make a swift and transformative impact on the goal of eradicating child poverty and eliminating child homelessness.

A Better Normal – Eliminating poverty and child homelessness post-Covid report was produced by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office to highlight the need for urgent political and cross-departmental action in planning for children post COVID-19. It particularly underlines the opportunity at hand to eradicate the longstanding issues of child poverty and family homelessness which impact every aspect of children’s lives.

A Better Normal was debated in the Dáil on the 21st of September and TDs from across the political spectrum focused on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children – particularly the most vulnerable.

The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman made opening statements welcoming the opportunity afforded by this initiative brought by the children’s ombudsman to prioritise children’s well-being for this government as we emerge from the pandemic. The Minister acknowledged the well-known risk factors such as inter-generational cycles of poverty, educational disadvantage and unemployment that can characterise growing up in disadvantaged communities. If we are to achieve our ambitious targets to eradicate child poverty, a renewed and strengthened cross-government focus on children and young people is required to address the core characteristics of entrenched child poverty. He also said that is crucial that as a country we take full account of the opportunities provided by the EU to resource innovative responses to child poverty. Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020 committed to lifting 70,000 children out of poverty by 2020. To date, some progress has been made with a 4.6% drop in child poverty rate between 2014 and 2019, but that target of 70,000 children has not been reached and much more needs to be achieved.

Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Children, Deputy Kathleen Funchion made statements regarding the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19 on the well-being of children in Ireland. Existing inequalities were exacerbated an already vulnerable children such as those in the traveller community, those experiencing homelessness or in persistent poverty have been disproportionally affected. It is unreasonable to think that children and families from all backgrounds will have the same capacity to recover. Government has a duty of care to help already struggling families keep from falling through the cracks. As we come out of COVID-19 undetected needs will emerge and children’s voices must not be lost, particularly in the lead up to Budget 2022. In meetings with various stakeholders in child welfare, it became clear that a cross-departmental children’s recovery strategy is essential and Sinn Féin will publish a document in the coming weeks that addresses the obstacles facing children and their families.

An ongoing issue that strongly impacts children from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds is access to vital early years and after-school childcare hours through the National Childcare Scheme. Deputy Funchion stated that the under allocation of hours to children based on their parents’ employment or educational status is having a detrimental impact that is not acceptable and called on the Minister to act.

Deputy Patrick Costello, Green Party spokesperson for justice also spoke to the importance of after-school services providing key support in the areas of education, nutrition and positive relationships to children. Deputy Costello spoke of the need to ensure that children facing poverty or disadvantage can gain access to them. He said that we need to regard these services not simply as childcare or labour activation schemes but as anti-poverty measures and ensure that these services can continue. Children whose parents do not work or cannot work should not be excluded from a service that is vital in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The full impact of the pandemic has yet to be understood but the effects on children and young people must be mitigated as a national priority. The issue of child poverty is especially prevalent in Ireland with a higher percentage of children at risk of poverty than the EU average and worryingly this report by the Ombudsman for Children indicates that child poverty rates could increase to 19%.  Ireland signed up to the EU Child Guarantee in June however significant next steps need to be taken if its ambitious goals of free healthcare, education, childcare, adequate housing, and nutrition for children in need, are to be achieved.

Early Childhood Ireland will be responding to government responses to child poverty and homelessness, including the Budget 2022 announcements later this month. If you have any questions or would like to engage with us, please contact our policy team

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