ERI_logo_1Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Stakeholder Submissions The Edmund Rice Network Ireland

Submission to the United Nations

Universal Periodic Review

Introduction

The Edmund Rice Network is a loosely affiliated grouping of education centres, schools and organisations associated with the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers around the world. The aim of the Network is to promote social justice through education and community development by pooling the resources and experiences of its constituent parties. A research and advocacy group was formed in Dublin, in September 2010, to promote the welfare of marginalised and vulnerable people.

This submission focuses on the welfare of young people, especially those in residential care. Through research, and from experience on the ground working with young people, it is clear that there are areas in which the government is failing to live up to its commitments in regard to the safety, welfare and education of vulnerable young people.

The three key points that the Edmund Rice Network wishes to focus on are:

–       The failure of the Health Service Executive (HSE), in the position of Loco Parentis, to ensure an adequate standard of living for young people in care;

–       The rights of young people to adequate and statutory care after leaving the care system at the age of 18.

–       The rights of young people to an education when the mainstream system fails them.

Background and framework

In September 2010 the Edmund Rice Network held a meeting of interested parties with a view to establishing a group to research the Human Rights and Children’s Rights record in Ireland. The group is comprised of Christian Brothers, youth workers, teachers and counsellors. A core constituent is The Life Centre, comprised of four education centres in Ireland; two in Dublin, one in Cork and one in Belfast. The Centres support 12-18 year olds, whose needs have not been met within mainstream education, to achieve school certification and gain essential life skills. The Centres provide one-to-one teaching in a safe and nurturing environment with an atmosphere closer to a home than a school. In the Centres we see, at first hand, the difficulties that some young people experience in the school setting and the benefit of an approach that provides for all their needs instead of focusing wholly on the academic. It was agreed that the primary concern of these parties was the failure of the State to ensure the safety of children in its care.

Following the group’s foundation, research was carried out in the area of education and residential care. Initial research focused on government policy and human rights, after which contact was made with various organisations working with young people; human rights lawyers, the HSE, the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS), and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). There was an emphasis on interviewing young people who had experience within the system to get their views on the care provided and the areas in which they felt let down.

Promotion and protection of the rights of the child on the ground

The rights of children in Ireland are protected under Irish Constitution, the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the Child Care Act of 1991 and the Children’s Act of 2001. In these documents children have been highlighted as individuals in their own right and in this regard they warrant the greatest care available to them from the State. It has been established that there are areas that merit greater attention to improve the quality of life for children in order to uphold the rights entitled to them under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Violations in the Rights of the Child to an adequate standard of living

Ireland is party to the following instruments where they have promised the children in their care the rights to an adequate standard of living;

  • Article 11, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Article 25 (1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Article 27, Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Part I, (7), (11), (13), article 17, (1) (b-c), European Social Charter (revised).

The Child Care Act of 1991, Part 2, Section 4 establishes the HSE as the Loco Parentis in cases where the child’s parents are unable to undertake the child’s care. The State has been successful in some regards but there are still many areas that have left young people at risk and have in some cases led to the death of children. In the position of Loco Parentis, the HSE assumes the statutory responsibility for providing accommodation, in a registered residential centre, for young people up to the age of 18, the supervision of which is outlined in the Act. In the residential centres children should be provided with all the requirements for their care and welfare;

  • clean and well-designed shelter and home.
  • Food.
  • suitable personal space.
  • staff that have been trained in social care.
  • access to counselling and therapy where necessary.

The HSE has failed in this on several occasions. Social workers, unable to find suitable emergency accommodation are forced to house children in bed and breakfasts or hotels. In these cases the children are forced onto the street between the hours of 9am and 6pm with nowhere to go and only breakfast provided for them. This is a situation that is untenable for anyone, least of all children.

On the 8th of May 2009 Christopher O’Driscoll was found dead in Cork City, two days after he died. Christopher had been in State care since he was ten years old. Two weeks before his death he was thrown out of the hostel for homeless adolescent boys where he had been accommodated. His social worker, with no other action to fall back on, booked him into Jury’s Hotel using her own personal credit card. He fled the hotel during the night. That was the last time he was seen alive. Christopher O Driscoll was 17 years of age. The State failed him in every way, he had a drug abuse problem, he was underweight, and he tried to throw himself under a car. These are issues that should have been dealt with by the State but most importantly, he was left alone in a Hotel without supervision and care. I have included a report written for The Irish Times newspaper by a former social worker with the HSE who worked with Christopher O Driscoll (Appendix F).

We recommend that the Government no longer use commercial businesses, such as Bed and Breakfasts, as accommodation for children who are in care.

Violations in the Rights of the Child to social security

Ireland is party to the following law instruments in which they have declared their decision to uphold the right of the child to social security;

  • Article 9, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Article 26, Convention on the rights of the Child.
  • Article 5 (e) (iv), Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
  • Article 22, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Article 2 (1), Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention (ILO).

The Child Care Act of 1991 mentions after care but leaves it as a very vague provision;

Article 45 (1)(a) Where a child leaves the care of a health board, the board may, in accordance with subsection (2), assist him for so long as the board is satisfied as to his need for assistance and, subject to paragraph (b), he has not attained the age of 21 years.

We strongly recommend that this is made a statutory provision. Young people attending second level education are often in their final year of school when they reach the age of 18. It is the year in which they sit the Leaving Certificate, an exam that determines their future life choices. Being in a position of extreme financial insecurity as well as under the threat of homelessness while they sit the state examinations is hugely detrimental to their ability to study.

Even without the added pressure of the Leaving Certificate, young people in the care system are particularly vulnerable and adjusting to life on their own is extremely difficult. Often they do not have family support and have been dependent on the State during their adolescent years. Their young age and limited life skills puts them in an extremely susceptible position when they are no longer welcome in residential centres. While the Government has acknowledged that after care is necessary, it has failed to make it statutory.

We strongly recommend that after care is made a statutory provision for young people leaving care.

Violation in the Rights of the Child to Education

Ireland is party to the following law instruments in which they have declared their decision to uphold the Rights of the Child to Education;

  • Article 13 and 14, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Article 18 (4), International Convention of Civil and Political Right.
  • Article 28 and 29, Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Article 5 (e) (v), Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
  • Article 10, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination against of Women.
  • Article 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Articles 10, 15(1), and 17 (1) (a), 17 (2), European Social Charter (revised).
  • Article 2, European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Protocol 1.

Education has always been highly valued in Ireland and the Irish nation prides itself on its reputation as one of the best educated nations in the world. At present there are children reaching 18 without any qualification. In 2006, out of 290,257 young people aged 15 years and over, 52,503 had ceased full-time education, which is indicative of the limitations of education system (CSO report, census 2006; Volume 10- Education and Qualification). The mainstream education system clearly cannot deal with young people who are unsuited to a classroom setting. These young people feel isolated, which leads to increased behavioural issues and eventually they are removed from the classroom. Disengaged from their peers and teachers, self-esteem and motivation is greatly affected. Once excluded from the mainstream education system, it is extremely difficult for a young person to regain access to education. While the Vocational Education Council provides many of these children with places there are others that slip through the system.

Educational centres, such as The Life Centres, which have a proven success rate in the holistic education of these young people are not currently recognised, supported or funded by the Government. These centres focus on an approach to education that includes passing state exams but also takes in essential life skills. In the period of 2000-2006, in The Life Centre in Cork City 24 out of 30 students sat and passed their Junior Certificate. An internal review taken in 2009 by the Cork Life Centre shows the value the young people, the parents and the staff place on the approach taken to education. The ratio of teacher to student is kept to a minimum and in this way a relationship and trust is built between them and the teacher becomes key to both the educational and social progression of the young people.

We strongly recommend that Centres of Education, with a more holistic approach to the education of a child, are given a recognised educational status, access to funding and government support.

Recommendations;

 The recommendations made in this submission are;

1. The Government no longer uses commercial businesses, like Bed and Breakfasts, as accommodation for children who are in Care.

2. Aftercare is made statutory for all young people leaving care, especially those still in the education system.

3. Centres of Education, with a more holistic approach to the education of a child, are established and supported by the government.

Appendix

A. No. of Children in Care of HSE (October 2010)

Care Placement                   |  Numbers
———————————–+————————————
Residential Care                 |  418
———————————–+————————————
Foster Care                      |  3,418
———————————–+————————————
Relative Foster Care             |  1,683
———————————–+————————————
Other care placements            |  163
———————————–+————————————
|
———————————–+————————————
Total                            |  5,682

B. Tracey Fay

Tracey Fay died of a drug overdose in 2002, she lived a life in and out of care, suffering abuse from her mother and her mother’s partner. In 2010 Catherine Ghent, her lawyer, went on Drivetime on RTE one and read out this document. She speaks as she were Tracy recounting her life from the grave. The words are poignant and heart breaking.

Transcript of The Life of Tracy Faye(Catherine Ghent)

It’s 1983 and I’m just born. The world’s a strange place when you’re not four yet. That’s when it started you know. Five times it turned up and people went to the bother of contacting the Social Workers saying they were worried my injuries were non-accidental. That means someone deliberately hurt me you know.

I’m 7 years of age. I’m small. I’m vulnerable. I’m not able physically to protect myself from those who are supposed to love me and look after me. I was hit so hard in the face my two front teeth were knocked out. Seeing it coming towards me. Waiting for the impact. Feeling the pain and experiencing the shock and crying and having nowhere to go to. Being scared and wondering if it will happen again. This is my life at seven years of age. Nobody told the guards and do you know what they said? The matter appeared to be a family conflict over which we’ve no jurisdiction. Isn’t that mad?

I’m now 8 years of age. I couldn’t go to school for a while because I’d bruising and a black eye. I told my teacher when I was at school that I didn’t like my Mam’s new partner and I don’t think he likes me. I’d bloodstains not usual for my age and I thought somebody would have asked me what was happening and was anything wrong? They asked my Mam of course who said I’d already been to the doctor. It’s funny they must have told someone because they had a record of that bit. I believe the HSE wrote to my Mam and asked her to come and see them. She didn’t go and nobody came to see me or ask if I was ok.

I’m 11 years of age now and I just can’t take it anymore. I want to kill myself. I wonder does anybody else my age feel like this? I suppose I’m still pretty young and still not that big. They asked my Mam to come and see them again but she didn’t come and they closed the file. Imagine that. Wouldn’t you think someone would have said-I wonder what’s going on in that house? I wonder if that little girl is ok? Is she safe? And wouldn’t you think that somebody would have figured out if these things kept happening and I wanted to kill myself. They’d need to meet me, to talk to me and make my mum realise that she couldn’t keep doing this. But they closed the file.

I’m fourteen now and I turned up with a fractured skull. It took some whack to do that. It’s not easy to fracture a skull. I’m used to it now. Waiting for the impact, the crunch and the after-math. I went to England for a bit and the Social Workers there tried to contact my granny when I came back. They told the Social Workers here they were closing their file because I’d moved back. They asked them to hold a meeting. It’s called a child protection case conference. Somebody clearly thought I needed protecting and guess what? They closed the file again. Is this a joke? Do they not think it’s strange that from the age of seven I’ve turned up with serious injuries consistently.

Still 14. I turned up at the out-of-hours. The social worker left me at 6.40pm and I had to walk to the Garda Station on my own. It was very scary and Garda Stations aren’t nice places to be. There’s people there who are drunk and who shout a lot and there’s people there I think aren’t well and they can be noisy and some of them very frightening.

I’m 15 now and I’ve a pretty good social worker. She told them. She said I was an extremely vulnerable girl who at present is not receiving adequate care. She also said I was a victim of physical and emotional abuse and that I was at risk. Fair play to her but still it’s a bit late. But it’s good somebody finally told it like it is.

I’m 15 and a half now and the guards are on my case. They wrote to the HSE so it must be bad. They told them I’m going up to men of all ages and that I’m going home with them. The guards are investigating criminal offences but they weren’t after me. They were after those men. I’m in a hostel and the guard said because I’m allowed to leave whenever I want I’m in grave danger. Sounds pretty serious to me.

I’m still 15. It’s a long year. Just got barred from the out-of-hours. It’s a terrible service anyway. Expecting you to wait at the Garda Stations to be picked up and left at whatever hostel’s free. You have to get out at 9.30 in the morning you know and you can’t come back until 10 o’clock at night unless you’ve a long term bed. It’s no place for us kids. We should be in school. In a safe place and people should love us instead of leaving us.

I’m 17 now. The guards stopped me for soliciting while heavily pregnant. Do they know how hard it is? Do they know how many placements I’ve had? Thirty-eight in three years, thirty-one B&B’s. Stayed in A&E a few times as I’d nowhere else to go, even slept in a tent.

I’m 18 now and it’s all over. They find me in a coal bunker used by drug addicts. Not a pretty ending but then it wasn’t a pretty life.

So what’s the story now? My lifespan 1983 to 2002. I’d love to say it’s all ok, they have it sorted and there’s no more kids like me getting messed up by their parents and then by the system. But sure you know it’s still going on. Do you actually care? There’s still kids in the out-of-hours, sleeping rough, being sexually abused for profit. And there’s still no social workers at weekends or after five. They’re still sticking bits of paper in filing cabinets, hundreds of them. But they’re not just bits of paper. It’s information on kids like me. Information you should be listening to and acting on.

We know some parents hurt their children. We know they sexually abuse them. We know mothers do it too. Struck me as funny. Charge a mum with incest and she can only get 7 years. Why not charge her with rape and she could get life? They need to get that referendum sorted. I don’t believe the brains in this country can’t come up with the wording that means kids that should be at home stay at home and kids like me who need to be taken out are. And then you make sure you actually look after us and help us. Cause you’re the state you know. You’re the people who decide how important it is or isn’t to protect and help kids like me. And you haven’t been very good at it and you’re still letting us down. Do something about it. Show you care and don’t just say it’s tragic. There’s others like me and you can make a difference. Because when you don’t listen we give up telling.

C. Child in care death report: young person A

 A report completed by the government in April into the death of Tracey Fay.

D. Child in Care death report: young person B

E. No Way Back, The Dynamics of Early School Leaving

The most comprehensive study to date of the processes shaping early school leaving in Ireland is published today. No Way Back? combines detailed information from surveys of second-level students and in-depth interviews with early school leavers. The study highlights many new findings relating to early school leaving.

F. Investing in Education: Combating Educational disadvantage

The study, commissioned by Barnardos, examines policy addressing educational disadvantage in Ireland. It highlights a number of issues for future policy development. Early school leaving has striking consequences for adult outcomes and leads to substantial costs for society.

G. Irish Times Report on Christopher O Driscoll.

Christopher O Driscoll is a prime example of the ineffectiveness of the social services in accommodating young people at risk. Christopher was placed in Jurys Inn by the Social Worker when the emergency accommodation proved unable to deal with him. Christopher went missing from the hotel and was found dead, alone in a squat, two days after his death. He was 17 years of age. Mary-Rose Waterman worked with Christopher and wrote a report for the Irish Times after his death.

The Irish Times – Saturday, July 31, 2010

It’s too late for Christopher, but other young lives can still be saved

This child didn’t fit the system and he fell through the cracks – so a total overhaul of social services and their ineffectual statutory powers is surely a must, writes MARY-ROSE WATERMAN

I WAS involved in caring for Christopher O’Driscoll during my employment as a HSE social care worker in the Pathways Hostel in Cork. I feel the need to share my views regarding his tragic case.

I had a good working relationship with Christopher, and he will always have a place in my heart. Christopher was an articulate, highly emotional, intelligent young person with a great sense of humour. However, he felt unloved and unwanted by most, and had no significant carer in his life from a young age. For the most part during his short existence, he spent his time floating through an inconsistent and dysfunctional child protection service as delivered by the health services.

In an attempt to remove this child from crisis, the HSE took action by employing the Child Care Act 1991, Section 18 Care Order. I cite section (3a) of the Child Care Act 1991: “Where a care order is in force, the health board (a) shall have the like control over the child as if it were his parent . . .”

A parent, or in this case the HSE, then ensures the welfare and interests of a child, which include focusing on fundamental functions such as accommodation, education and healthcare. Christopher died with no fixed abode; he had had a minimal education – he could not read or write; he had serious health issues, and there was a lack of integrated services adequate to meet his needs.

He did not fit the social services system, and fell through the cracks. It is clear, and heartbreakingly so by example of Christopher, that serious inadequacies exist within Irish social services.

I propose, and scream for, an overhaul of social services and their ineffectual statutory powers and practices. We need, immediately, to initiate communication between statutory and non-statutory agencies to work collectively, share information and to implement effective legal decisions.

For example, in Christopher’s case, a function was needed to override his objection to treatments. If a person under the age of 18 lacks capacity due to a disability or mental illness, then a function should exist to authorise coercive powers to override a person’s objection to treatment. This decision should not be taken lightly, and the fundamental principles in upholding a young person’s best interests and welfare should be maintained.

Working with Christopher, I, along with the Pathways team, endeavoured to execute such a plan. Christopher was, psychologically and emotionally, gravely unstable, and at that time my main fear was that he would die. Christopher needed vigorous intervention of services to save his life. Regrettably, the plans never developed further.

Christopher had to leave Pathways, the only emergency homeless unit for young male adolescents, and was no longer in our care. Undoubtedly, it must be acknowledged that Christopher’s behaviour was beyond challenging.

Nonetheless, he is the very reason why social practitioners are employed and the social services exist. We cannot close the door on a frightened, troubled, lonely young person without opening another.

Providing BB and hotel accommodation is an appalling quick fix which is going on for a long time, abuses taxpayers’ money and is wholly inadequate in caring for such young people. The responsibility is to care for them to the best of our ability and to strive to find innovative solutions in an attempt to support young people like Christopher out of crisis. We have social, moral and statutory responsibility toward such young people.

Ultimately, our child protection service failed Christopher, and this failure resulted in his untimely and inhumane death. My question is: how did it get to this point? How did a child under the full care of the HSE die in such horrific circumstances?

Christopher’s intensive case was well known for some time to medical practitioners, community services, statutory services and the judicial services. But somehow he went unnoticed and without adequate care. I struggle to understand how Christopher went unnoticed, as he had a powerful personality and was more than capable of making his voice heard. We (all stakeholders) simply didn’t listen or work in partnership together in protecting him.

The Irish social services is a top-heavy system whereby social workers follow invalid protocol; it is not a service. Statutory obligation and the duty of care to all children in Ireland should involve sharing of information and uniformity of all social services. There is a critical need to overview the existing systematic structures in place and to reshape current practice to meet the needs of young people, rather than putting them through a system that fails to care for them time and time again.

Finally, from the viewpoint of a frontline social practitioner, I would like to provide recommendations to the Irish social services:

To promote professional responsibility and harmonisation of service provision among all stakeholders, including doctors, the judicial system and the Garda Síochána. Doctors must become more vigilant and aware of clients who misuse drugs. Prescriptions for mood stabilisers should not be given so frivolously to young people. Young people presenting before the courts for criminal offences need to be held accountable for their behaviour. However, direction into a diversional court programme is necessary, rather than sending them back into the community without consequence or directing them into the penal system. It is necessary to provide community education to the Garda Síochána concerning the Child Care Act 1991, and the imperative role gardaí play in child protection issues.

– To eradicate professional snobbery among stakeholders. Social workers have statutory responsibility towards children in their care. On the other hand, social care workers have academic qualifications and invaluable field experience, but are without influential status or statutory powers. However, they provide primary care, and tend to the child’s daily needs. A social care worker’s intense interaction and understanding of a child ought to be an influential factor in considering their appropriate and vital needs.

– To establish mental health services for young people between the ages of 16 and 18 years, and stop ignoring a young person’s mental health issues due to illicit drug-taking.

– To utilise pioneering reports such as Geoffrey Shannon’s Third Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection 2009 and Children First National Guidelines .

– To implement best practices through legislation to build an effective child protection model incorporating a child-centred approach to promoting the best interests of the child.

This article does not consist of a blame game, but is recognition that a shift in focus must take place at a national level to sincerely protect all children in Irish society. From my experience in Pathways, the social practitioner team genuinely – and some so desperately – wanted to help Christopher.

Unfortunately we lacked the tools, resources, a shared communication mechanism and influential status to make a difference in his life until it was too late.

The name Christopher O’Driscoll will forever remain with me through my personal and professional lifetime.                              

H. CSO report, census 2006; Volume 10- Education and Qualification.

An examination of the returns of the 2006 census from an educational standpoint.

  1. Opening Closed Doors; A Review of the Sunday’s Well Life Centre 2009.

An internal review carried out by the Sunday’s Well Life Centre, includes interviews with staff, students, parents and Board of Management, as well as qualitative research on the achievements of the centre.

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