Number One Priority For Next Government Must Be To Address Child Homelessness – Children’s Rights Alliance.

Report Card 2020 awards outgoing Government an overall C+ grade

Child and family homelessness must be the number one priority for the next Government. That’s according to the Children’s Rights Alliance, which today (03.03.20) published its Report Card 2020. The organisation’s annual Report Card grades the Government’s performance on children’s rights in key areas such as housing, health, education, poverty, equality, early years and education.

Child homelessness “a grave social injustice”

Speaking today, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “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 per cent from 2014 to 2019.

“The outgoing Government has 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.”

Overall grade for Government

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.  According to the Children’s Rights Alliance, 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.

Commenting on the grades, Ms. Ward said: “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 pilot. Another positive development in the past 12 months 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.”

Areas for improvement

As well as child and family homelessness, the Report Card highlighted two other key areas in need of improvement: mental health and the rights of Traveller and Roma children.

According to Ms. Ward: “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. Little has been done to address the fact that Traveller families are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis, for example. While Traveller families make up less that one per cent of the population, they make up nine per cent of the homeless population and face the highest level of discrimination when accessing housing. Imagine that, in Ireland today, many Traveller and Roma children report hiding their identity because of the level of bullying they face. The next government needs to take measures to ensure that more inclusive systems are being implemented to make sure this does not continue to happen.

“In 2019, there were some positive steps taken, but we will need to see action in the next Programme for Government if we are to see real improvements in their lives. The commitments we need for the children and families of this country are ones that address these inequalities and deliver the social change we need.”

Input from Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness

Former Supreme Court judge Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness chaired the independent panel of experts that compiled the Report Card grades.

Speaking at the launch, she said: “Over the lifetime of the outgoing Government, we have seen marked improvements in the lives of children. However, there is still huge progress to be made, particularly in the areas of homelessness, the rights of Traveller and Roma children and access to adequate healthcare. There is an opportunity now for the new government – once it is formed – to be ambitious in its thinking.  The parties negotiating the next Programme for Government need to remember that the decisions they make will change the course of the lives of children and young people across country.”

Report Card 2020 is available on the Children’s Rights Alliance website, www.childrensrights.ie.