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Home > Seanad Eireann debate: Fourth report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: Statements.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate: Fourth report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: Statements. (07 Jun 2011)

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…Senator Aideen Hayden: I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her appointment, which reflects the Government’s commitment to child care and child protection issues. I also congratulate Mr. Shannon on his excellent and comprehensive report. As with his previous reports, the common denominator is children who are the most vulnerable in our society. I agree with the Minister that resources are an issue. The four common threads in the current report are homelessness, the rights of children with mental health problems, children and the criminal law, and the trafficking of children and prostitution. The children affected, by and large, have experienced poverty. There is a significant common denominator between children who are at risk in all of these categories.


There are also a number of common threads in the report. For example, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, leaving prison and leaving care are trigger factors for youth homelessness. Section 2, which deals with the rights of children with mental health problems, concerns a group that is vulnerable not only because of age but also because of mental health difficulties. As Senator Terry Leyden pointed out, the country does not have a proud record in the use of mental health facilities for social control purposes and, therefore, the statement in the report that vulnerable young people deserve to be heard is excellent. Ensuring proper review mechanisms are in place for children with mental health difficulties is critical. The setting up of mental health tribunals, allowing children aged 16 years and over and those under the age of 16 who are competent to consent their right to bodily integrity and to have consent sought from them at every point of their treatment, and establishing an advocacy service for children within the mental health system are among the steps we need to take to ensure some of the shameful events of Ireland’s past do not occur again.


The Minister stated that youth homelessness was in decline. That is an area in which it is difficult to assess the exact numbers involved. It has been particularly difficult in suburban and rural areas to estimate the numbers of youth who are homeless.


One of the recommendations made in the report is to discontinue the use of Garda stations for out-of-hours services. Anyone who has been involved in the youth homelessness sector would wholeheartedly support this recommendation. It is a well known fact that the children who are in this position are highly unlikely to report to a Garda station and would only do so as a last resort or not at all…


Senator Mary M. White: Fianna Fáil should also be commended for the accentuation in society of the emphasis on children’s affairs.


We are considering the results of another institutional innovation, namely, the appointment of a special rapporteur on child protection, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, whose fourth report is before the Seanad today. He has done signal service in his various assignments on behalf of children and the country is fortunate to have someone of his expertise and credibility engaged on the issues of child protection.


I wish to focus on a few of the many issues dealt with in the report. First, it points out that the HSE is charged with the task of tackling youth homelessness. However, the issue of youth homelessness has never been comprehensively addressed either by the HSE or society. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has referred to the current economic decline and the fact that the report states the level of homelessness is again on the rise. Of particular concern is the level of homelessness among children. A young person who is homeless is highly vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse, poor health and many other social and criminal traps.


I strongly support the recommendation concerning the need for local authorities and the HSE to tackle homelessness through the provision of social housing. At least, if homeless young people or their homeless family had a roof over their heads which they could call their own, they would have an important source of stability in their lives. Surely, with all the ghost estates in every community in the country, we can provide access for homeless children and their families to this accommodation. The report suggests the number of homeless children is less than 500; therefore, meeting the housing challenge is doable, given the necessary political will. At the end of the day, it comes down to political will and the courage of the Minister to take innovative initiatives.


My second point — I have called for this repeatedly — concerns the provision of a 24-hour out-of-hours social service. I acknowledge that the Minister made this point in her contribution. However, I am not talking about a 24-hour social service delivered in a fragmented way in various parts of the country but a nationwide 24-hour service. The Department continues to highlight the service it provides in parts of Dublin and other places, but that is a failure. The need for such a service recurs in so many of our acute social services such as suicide prevention, an issue in which I have, as the Minister knows, a special interest. As Senator Rónán Mullen said, there are issues that can be dealt with and I believe the Croke Park agreement provides the flexibility to deliver this service. The former Minister for Health and Children repeatedly made the point that the service could not be delivered because of issues to do with industrial relations, but with the Croke Park agreement we now have a facility to provide a 24-hour social service. I urge the Minister to do this.


While the report calls for the discontinuance of Garda stations being used to provide an out-of-hours service, it is a fact that the Garda is left by default to deal with the acute cases the HSE and the social work profession have chosen to ignore. I commend gardaí for the work they do every night and weekend across the country in responding to acute social issues, while the official services which are charged with official responsibility have chosen to wash their hands of it.


I wish to comment on the extreme abuse of vulnerable children in child trafficking. It appears that the main purpose of the trafficking of children is their sexual exploitation. This is an international and world issue. The report refers to a draft European directive on “preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims”. I encourage the Minister and the members of my own party through its MEPs to support actively the passing of the directive and its incorporation in Irish law without delay…….

Fourth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: Statements
7 June 2011
Vol. 208 No. 4

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