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Next Government needs to prioritise children’s rights

By Tanya Ward, chief executive, Children's Rights Alliance

CHILD and family homelessness must be the number one priority for the next Government.

Last week, the Children’s Rights Alliance published its Report Card 2020. This grades the Government’s performance on children’s rights in key areas such as housing, health, education, poverty, equality, early years and education.

Addressing child and family homelessness must be an urgent priority for the next Government. Children now make up the largest population in homelessness, with child homelessness rising by a staggering 400 percent between 2014 and 2019.

The outgoing Government consistently failed in this area, with the grade on this issue fluctuating from an E to an F over the past four years – the lowest grades awarded to any of the areas assessed.

What we have witnessed since 2016 has been a grave social injustice. We are now facing a homelessness crisis that is depriving thousands of children of a decent childhood. The next Government must acknowledge this crisis for what it is and commit to build, to legislate and to plan with children and families in mind.

In the 2020 Report Card, the Government is awarded an overall ‘C+’ grade for its performance on children’s rights issues over the past 12 months – up from a ‘C’ in 2019. The improved grade is due to the Government reaching its commitments across a number of key areas:

• Educational Disadvantage: rising from a ‘C’ grade in 2019 to ‘C+’ in 2020; 

• Primary Care: rising from ‘C+’ in 2019 to ‘B’ in 2020;

• Subsidised and School-Age Childcare: rising from ‘C+’ in 2019 to ‘B’ in 2020; and

• Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children: rising from a ‘C ’ grade in 2019 to ‘C+’ in 2020.

Over the past 12 months, we have seen some positive changes for children and young people. Budget 2020 went some way towards addressing the scale of child poverty we have in Ireland by extending the hot school meals programme. It also included a welcome commitment to trial a Free School Books Programme. Another positive development in the past year was the commencement of the new National Childcare Scheme.

Much more work is needed to guarantee that every child in Ireland grows up healthily, happily and safely. Back to school costs continue to be a barrier to education for many children. Ireland has the third highest childcare costs in Europe with serious problems in staff pay and retention. The new Government must continue to invest heavily in this area.

We are calling on the next Government to make childcare more affordable for parents by increasing investment and introducing price caps on fees. We also want to see free childcare introduced for lone parents.

While there has been some improvement for refugee and asylum-seeking children, the reliance on inappropriate emergency accommodation is unacceptable and must stop. The Government must avoid institutional settings and invest in good quality, own-door accommodation in local communities.

The incoming Government needs to appoint HIQA to inspect refugee accommodation. The Government has produced new national standards for refugee reception accommodation and if they are implemented effectively, we could end direct provision as we know it.

As well as child and family homelessness, the 2020 Report Card highlighted two other key areas in need of improvement: mental health and the rights of Traveller and Roma children. The outgoing Government has also recorded a poor performance year after year on commitments to Traveller and Roma children. That issue receives a ‘D’ grade this year.

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