More than 20 complaints were made to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children by Waterford people in 2021.
Nationally, there's been a 79% increase in complaints, with education issues dominating.
According to today's annual report, there were 2,126 complaints made to the Ombudsman last year.
21 of those came from people in Waterford, making up 1% of the overall figure.
Of the South East counties, Wexford had the highest number, at 43.
The majority - 908 of the complaints nationally - were directly related to Covid-19 issues.
They included restrictions in schools, uncertainty surrounding the Leaving Cert, facemasks, and supports for children with disabilities.
For many years education has been the subject of most complaints to the OCO and this was the case again in 2021, with 53% of complaints relating to education. In keeping with previous years, bullying again accounted for 10% of education related complaints.
Faces behind the figures
Resilience Tested also features the stories of some of the children the OCO worked on behalf of last year; the faces behind the figures. This includes James Jnr and Rosie* whose family were finally moved to a permanent home after living in sub-standard emergency accommodation for three years, and whose parents say are now like ‘new children’.
We also hear how 12-year-old Ella*, who has dyslexia, finally received a laptop for her schoolwork after much delay, and how her case led to training being provided so no other child is impacted by a similar issue.
Record number of complaints
Speaking ahead of the publication of Resilience Tested, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon said:
“The OCO received a record number of complaints on behalf of children and young people last year, with a 79% increase on 2020. While some of this can be attributed to a resumption of services following the blanket closures of 2020, a large proportion of complaints related directly to Covid-19 issues.
“Children are often recognised for their ability to learn, to adapt, to endure difficulties, to recover and to accept change. But even the strongest of us have our limits and in 2021 even the most resilient child was tested.
“In 2021 children, and indeed the public services providing for them, had to simply ‘get on with it’. Children were expected to make-do with the stop-start nature of school, they were expected to make friends behind masks, and they were expected to accept the cancelled plans, the curtailed experiences.
“The impact of the past two years can be clearly seen in the issues being raised with the OCO and I expect that there will be a knock-on effect for years to come.
“It is vital that we take the learnings from the pandemic to bring about change for children. An investment in children’s futures and commitment from Government is needed to ensure that we do not miss the opportunity to do things better.
“In 2021 the OCO published reports on Traveller issues, Direct Provision and the barriers facing children with disabilities. The scourge of child homelessness and poverty also remain of huge concern to us, and our Better Normal proposal to eradicate these issues was debated in the Dáil last year.
“It is clear that children are still experiencing delays in accessing services and Government departments and agencies still need to be more child centred. The pandemic has shown like never before how children’s best interests need to be at the centre of decisions affecting them, which wasn’t always the case in 2021.”