If you were a child or young person watching the events of the last number of weeks, what might you have observed?
Adults and officials in government departments and in unions fighting over plans, terms and conditions, concessions, preconditions, conflicting advices and processes. They will have observed all those things we try to protect them from; abusive debate, online bullying, poor communication, name calling.
The only game being played in the lives of our children over the last few weeks is the blame game.
It is an appalling reflection on the adults involved and tragically with no early end in sight.
The right to an appropriate education is not some luxury, to be dispensed at the whim of one side or another.
The provision of an education for our children is not something to be held out as a carrot but only in circumstances where one side or another get what they want.
It is an essential service, to be overseen by essential workers, just in the same way as our nurses and doctors, residential care staff, gardaí, pharmacists, essential retail workers and countless others who are performing heroic tasks in order to keep our society functioning.
One million school children are at home at the moment. Difficult for everyone. For many of them they have just enough supports to get by. Many of them have incredibly dedicated teachers who are willing and able to design programmes to provide them with enough support to get them through these dark times, with the hope of better days ahead.
For many other children in our country they don’t have these supports. Nor can they avail of them. For our most vulnerable these are indeed high risk times. Carol Coulter and her colleagues in the Child Law Reporting project provided us with just a glimpse this week of the highly dangerous and risky environments which many children are exposed to.
This last year has added incredibly to those child protection concerns. For many children school is not just a place to go to be educated. It is where they experience kindness, support, therapeutic help, respite from the dangers and stresses outside. Where their educators are in a position to intervene, to make the correct referrals, to raise the flags of concern. They are missing that greatly.
I have worked in the area of child advocacy and representation since 2006. I have never seen more crisis cases in all that time and I fear very much that we are only scratching the surface.
It is against this bleak background that I find it all the more disturbing the lack of appropriate and urgent responses from government and their union partners.
Children in crisis do not have the luxury of time and idiotic grandstanding.
The ambition to prioritise vulnerable children and in particular to provide in school education for children in special school and special class settings is a must do and an immediate requirement.
The numbers of children involved constitute a tiny proportion of our children of school going age — around 16,000 pupils or 2% of the entire school population in each type of setting. These figures will themselves reduce further as parents whose children or family members with high risk medical needs who won’t be able to attend on site at present. They shouldn’t be compelled to do so and measures such as the extension of the home tuition programme should be immediately sanctioned and supported for these children.
For others who need to attend on site however, their constitutional rights for an education suitable and appropriate to their needs must be vindicated. If you have a child that has a diagnosis or condition that is rooted in communication deficits, many are not suitable for remote learning. As a result the whole concept of remote learning does not meet their constitutional right to access to education.
Public health advice rightly points out that there is no such thing as a risk free Covid environment. It is how we manage those risks, prioritise those most in need, and develop a proportionate response to the issues arising that needs to be actioned. It should never be framed on the basis of an ‘all in or all out’ approach.
What Covid has confirmed for many children is that they cannot rely on government or the unions to collaborate together to act in their best interests.
They have been failed yet again by those who they rely upon to meet their educational and welfare needs. Their voice has been completely drowned out and sidelined.
I have no doubt that decisive action will be taken in the coming days on behalf of vulnerable children and young people should this stand off between government and unions continue. It might be about time to take decision making powers on these issues away from those that have failed children so miserably.
– Gareth Noble is a children’s rights solicitor with KOD Lyons.
Post Source : – Written by The Irish Examiner