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Policy issues concerning Children

Life on a low income is the norm for a large proportion of our society. Prior to the current public health crisis, one in every seven people in Ireland lived with an income below the poverty line; about 680,000 people. Looking ahead, these numbers look set to rise as the very uneven impact of the Covid-19 crisis unfolds. 

Early childhood is the stage where education can most effectively influence the development of children and help reverse disadvantage. The most striking feature of investment in education in Ireland relative to other OECD countries is its under-investment in early childhood education.  High quality educational experiences in early childhood contribute significantly to life-long learning success.  This sector needs to be supported by Government, financially and through policy, to ensure that all children have equal access to this success and all of the benefits of quality education.

The World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Lancet Commission have just published a landmark report on the need to place children at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The report finds that despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future. Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflict, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country. 

Family poverty remains one of the largest determinants of educational outcomes in Ireland.  The benefits of investing in education, to the individual, to the economy and to society, far outweigh any initial outlay of resources.  Read Social Justice Ireland's Election Briefing on Education for an outline of a number of key challenges and some policy proposals that should be in the next Programme for Government.

Dr Elizabeth Nixon (TCD) gave a presentation on children’s lives in Ireland, including some key findings from the Growing Up In Ireland survey, at our recent Social Policy Conference. One of the key messages to emerge from the GUI data is that children in Ireland are generally doing very well in terms of their development. Notwithstanding this, a substantial minority of children are displaying difficulties across one or more developmental domains. Dr Nixon outlines with these difficulties are and also examines the role that family structure and family relationships play in children’s lives.   

Investment in Children and Families is an essential investment in our social and human capital now and into the future. Our Budget 2020 submission contains a number of costed proposals in this area.

In 2017, the Government introduced Family Hubs as an alternative to hotels and B&Bs and described as a “first step” for families experiencing homelessness.  Later that year, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) warned of the risks associated with Family Hubs, of institutionalising families and normalising family homelessness.  This warning was ignored, with Minister Murphy urging local authorities to build more rapid build Family Hubs at the Second Housing Summit in January 2018, and increased funding for Family Hubs provided in Budget 2019. 

A report published by the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) this week (18 April 2019) shows just how prescient IHREC’s warnings were, as children as young as 10 describe their living conditions as being “like a prison”.

In our Poverty Focus published this week, Social Justice Ireland looked at the impact of poverty, in particular child and family poverty.  Over 230,000 children are living at risk of poverty in Ireland today.  Studies undertaken since the mid-1990s indicate that the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has a direct relationship on the causes of death and chronic health issues in adults, with some evidence suggesting it alters a child’s DNA if not addressed in time.  While child poverty is not of itself an ACE, there is a correlation between poverty and ACEs which, if ignored, can affect a child’s whole life.

Living in poverty is a reality for one in five children in Ireland.  This means that around 230,000 children in Ireland are living in families with incomes below the poverty line.  This is one of the main findings from Poverty Focus 2019.  How long more can we afford to ignore these children and their living standards?  This issue can be addressed effectively.  Child poverty can be eliminated.

Homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life from conception to young adulthood and the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioural development of children.

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