On 24 and 25 January 2023, the Minister of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) led the Irish delegation appearing before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland. Ireland’s latest appearance before the Committee coincides with the centenary of our State and the 10-year anniversary of the passing of the Children’s Referendum which amended the Constitution to include children’s rights. Joined by officials from several government departments, Minister O’Gorman answered questions from the Committee concerning disability services, new legislation, equality and inclusion of minority communities in society. An earlier Policy Brief reviewed the hearings in detail.
Last week, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published its report on Ireland’s appearance before the Committee. The 16-page report outlined a series of recommendations for the Irish government on how to better uphold the rights of children and young people. The recommendations covered a number of areas including education, non-discrimination, poverty, mental health and youth justice.
Inclusion of children experiencing disadvantage and negative stereotyping
The Committee raised several concerns in relation to Ireland’s education system. It recommended that the government adopts a more inclusive approach to education policies, specifically for children who are experiencing disadvantage. Of relevance to our sector, the Committee called on the government to “ensure inclusive education in early childhood education and mainstream schools for all children with disabilities by adapting curricula and training and assigning specialised teachers”. The Committee also called for the establishment of special classes for children with disabilities. And for the State to explicitly prohibit the use of restraint and seclusion in educational settings.
The Committee also called on the Irish government to remove negative stereotypes against migrant and ethnic minority communities in curricula. And to ensure that education-related data is dis-aggregated by ethnic origin, socioeconomic background, and residential status to assess the impact of educational policies on these children. Interestingly, the Committee singled out the importance of children’s right to play. It called on the Government to “strengthen support for initiatives aimed at promoting children’s right to leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts”.
Progress since Ireland’s 2016 Committee appearance
Since Ireland’s last appearance before the Committee in 2016, the Government has published First 5. This is a whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families. First 5 outlines the long-term vision for the Early Years sector in Ireland to ensure that every child has the best possible start in life. In Budget 2023, the Government announced a €1 billion investment in Early Years and School Age Care towards realising that goal. The UN Committee also recognised Ireland’s progress in implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child through legislative and policy measures. These include the Children First Act and Children and Family Relationships Act.
Ireland’s approach to youth mental health is a “serious concern”
The Committee further concluded that Ireland’s approach to youth mental health was a “serious concern”. It described the State’s mental health services as ‘insufficient’ and ‘inadequate’. It highlighted the long waiting lists that prevent young people from accessing help and support in a timely manner. The Committee urged the Irish State to act promptly to ensure age-appropriate mental health services are available for all children and young people. It also advised for Ireland to significantly increase its investment in mental health services. And to ensure the number of qualified professionals, including child psychologists and psychiatrists, is sufficient to meet children’s needs.
Growing levels of child poverty
Lastly, the Committee commented on growing levels of child poverty in Ireland. Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe, but despite this poverty levels have remained consistent. As a demographic, children are more at risk of consistent poverty than the general population. There are currently over 62,000 children living in consistent poverty and more than 160,000 at risk of poverty. Recent research by Barnardos found that one in five parents didn’t have enough food to feed their children. Traveller and Roma children face some of the most serious threats. This is because they are far more likely to live in unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation than their peers. At the end of 2022, there were 3,442 children homeless in Ireland. This is more than double the amount when Ireland appeared before the Committee in 2016. Not only is it deeply concerning that children are growing up in unsuitable and inappropriate accommodation, the impact on their health and development, their mental health and self-esteem, and their education cannot be ignored.
The Committee urged the Government to increase social welfare benefits to reflect the rising cost of living. It also pushed for expanding the School Meals programme. It also recommended that the State adapt a child rights-based approach to tackling disadvantage. This should focus particularly on children of lone parents, refugee children and children of ethnic minority groups.
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