A seismic shift in attitudes to the needs of children is necessary if equality and social justice are to be achieved. That’s according to social campaigner Sr. Stan Kennedy, who delivered a keynote address at Social Care Ireland’s annual conference in Kilkenny today, Wednesday.
Speaking on the topic ‘Justice for All our Children’, Sr. Stan said Ireland had failed to develop adequate and effective childcare and child protection systems during the economic boom.
“Ireland has consistently failed to put children’s needs first,” she said. “Despite the fact that we enjoyed unimaginable economic prosperity for over a decade, child poverty was not addressed and more than 90,000 children continue to live in consistent poverty in Ireland today. This means they live in dire or chronic poverty without adequate food or basic comforts like heat.
“Furthermore, an additional 200,000 children are at risk of poverty. This is a scandal, given the prosperity and extravagance that became the norm during the Celtic Tiger years.
“We had an opportunity to put things right during the boom, but we wasted it. Now – during the recession – the plight of many children is worse than ever before.”
Sr. Stan focused on particularly vulnerable groups of children in her keynote address, including those living in State care and those experiencing homelessness.
“The most recent figures for child homelessness are from 2008,” she said. “In that year, there were over 1,300 homeless children in the Dublin area alone, of which over 700 were on their own, with the others in emergency accommodation for homeless people with their parents. That means one in seven people using homeless services were children.
“In 2011, there were over 6,000 young people in HSE care. But while we know the number of those in care, we know little about their experiences or their lives. There is no systematic monitoring or evaluation of services, so we have no guarantee that they are effective and well-run. We do know that over 100 young people have died whilst in care, and this is a cause of grave concern.
“We also know there is a serious lack of information on what happens to young people after they turn 18 and leave care. The State provides very little accommodation or support for young people leaving care, and many of them end up becoming homeless as a result.
“Migrant children leaving care find themselves in a particularly precarious position: as migrants, they are not entitled to any social welfare or support and, although they have leave to remain in the country, it is conditional on them not being dependent on the State. These young people are destitute; left totally and completely on their own, without any assistance or support. Their situation is appalling. Some of them end up homeless; others in prostitution. They have very little choice.”
According to Sr. Stan, a change in how the most vulnerable children are treated will only occur if people become more empathetic and view such children as they would their own.
“When you hear of children who are homeless, or living in dire poverty, or forced into prostitution, it is easy to feel removed and shrug off their plight because it bears no comparison to the reality of your day-to-day life,” she said. “Up until now, we have always seen them as other people’s children. But this attitude needs to change.
“We will not have adequate, quality care services for our most vulnerable children until we see them as ‘ours’. Until this shift in attitude occurs, all children in Ireland will not be cherished equally.”