Family Law and Education top the list of issues coming to Children’s Rights Alliance Helpline for second year running
Family Law, Education and Disability remain top issues for parents for the second year in a row, according to the second Annual Report for the Children’s Rights Alliance Helpline launched today (29.07.2020).
The Children’s Rights Alliance established the Helpline and Free Legal Advice Clinics in 2018 to ensure that all children have access to free legal information and advice when they need it, regardless of their location, income or situation. The second of its Annual Reports spotlighting the emerging trends through the helpline reveals that Family Law and Education remain persistent areas where parents and young people need help. The report also highlights a growing trend in calls on Disability, with more than double the number of cases in 2019 than the first year of the Helpline.
Speaking at the report launch, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “This is the second Annual Report for the Helpline and it is telling that we are seeing the same issues come through as the areas of most difficulty for young people and parents. It is disappointing to see that there remains a serious gap in service provision when it comes to the family law system. For the second year in a row, family law queries dominate our caseload. Children and young people have contacted us struggling to understand the processes involved in family law disputes, particularly around access visits. We have had calls where there has been an instance of domestic violence and the young person does not wish to go on the access visit. We have also had parents contact us because their children do not want to go on access visits but they are worried about breaking the court order. In these highly sensitive situations, information on what they can do, where they can go for further support or explanation of their situation can make all the difference.”
Key findings in the report relating to family law:
• 22 per cent of cases in 2019 related to family law.
• One common issue for families in 2019 was dissatisfaction with court reports. This relates to reports that can be ordered in family law cases to consider the voice and welfare of the child. These reports are usually written by an independent expert. However, the Children’s Rights Alliance received several calls in which parents raised concerns about how this process was completed and about the independence of the expert appointed. We have also heard from parents worried about the cost of having these reports carried out.
Commenting on the findings, Ms. Ward said: “Last year we feared that young people were being pushed out by a family law system in desperate need of reform. Now, we know these young people and their families are stuck in these gaps in the system. We need to face the fact that we do not have a family-friendly court system. The Alliance urges the new Government to introduced new family law courts without delay to ensure that the system that is supposed to support families is one receptive and accommodating to their needs.”
Key findings in the report included:
• 41 cases in 2019 (11 per cent)
• More than half of these cases relate to disputes with schools, with parents/guardians seeking advice on how to engage with the school on matters of detention or expulsions, or how to make a complaint.
• Young people have also contacted us to raise issues they have with their school including feeling discriminated against because of their ethnicity or feeling mistreated by school staff.
Key findings in the report included:
• 35 cases in 2019 were on the issue of disability (9.5 per cent)
• Reduced timetables (where a child is on a shorter day) was a recurring issue in 2019. There is currently no formal system for recording reduced hours in the education system despite the fact that it is an interference with a child’s right to access education.
• In 2019, families have contacted the Children’s Rights Alliance Helpline about children as young as five being put on a reduced day due to behavioural difficulties.
Tanya Ward continued, “Education and Disability are top areas of concern for us in the Alliance. Education has remained a one of the core issues being raised through the Helpline since it launched in 2018 and it continues to be a common issue in our legal advice clinics. The majority of queries relate to disputes with schools which would suggest that support in these situations is not well signposted for parents who do not know how to help their child. Families that contact us are not aware of their child’s rights in these situations and many need further support when it comes to engaging with the school or raising a complaint. There is also intersectional concerns when it comes to education and disability. We received a significant number of calls from families struggling to access an appropriate school place for their child particularly because they have a disability. Our report signals the needs for greater attention to paid to school places and support allocation for children with special educational needs.”
“When it comes to the issue of Disability, queries doubled from 2018 to 2019. We are particularly concerned about the prevalence of the use of reduced timetables for children when reviewing these cases. It appears that the practice of reduced hours is relied upon in response to learning difficulties, behavioural or social/emotional issues. However, there is currently no formal system for recording reduced hours in the education system despite the fact that it is an interference with a child’s rights to access education. Without this, we are concerned that the practice could be misused and impact the educational needs and rights of children at all ages including very young children. Schools need guidance to ensure these measures are used for the right reasons. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Education and Skills have developed guidelines on this issue. They need to be published without delay, especially as we head into an academic year with new difficulties facing students and their teachers.”
Other Key Findings
Other key findings from the report include:
• One of the most significant changes is the noticeable drop in child protection queries. In 2018, the rights of children in child protection and the child protection system was one of the top issues coming through the Helpline with 31 cases. In 2019, this dropped to just 17.
• Other adults and carers raised 17 per cent of queries. 2019 saw increased numbers of foster carers contacting the service with issues including difficulties managing court-ordered access visits, a case where a child was being removed from foster care and questions about getting consent to take a child in care on holidays.
• Approximately a third of call cases in 2019 were referrals from other NGOs or statutory bodies. These are often complex cases that require further legal assistance and advice and often include intersectional issues such as housing and homeless issues intertwined with immigration issues, issues around homelessness for young care leavers and complex guardianship issues for young parents who have been in the care system.
“Our service was established to help fill the void of child-centred and child-specific legal information and support. Our aim is very specific but the need for it is clear when the same issues for young people and for parents are persisting for the second year in a row. It is clear some families are struggling. Struggling to navigate a complex justice system or an education system that is not meeting the needs of their child. Some families simply do not know where to go to find the right support or an advocate who will help them. The new Government has the opportunity to step up and step in, to help fight for the rights of children and help them have their voices heard because right now, many feel like they are doing it alone,” concluded Tanya Ward.
The Helpline and Legal Advice Clinics Annual Report 2019 is available to download from the Children’s Rights Alliance website here.
Contact: Emma Archbold Children’s Rights Alliance, Tel: 01-662 9400 / 0879971410, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editor:
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, Children's Rights Alliance is available for interview.
Julie Ahern, Legal and Policy Manager, Children's Rights Alliance is available for interview.
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Helpline: 01 902 0494
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About the Children’s Rights Alliance
• Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL. #CRAHelpline2019