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April 2015 Report highlights issues regarding access to justice for children with mental disabilities
- The voice of the child is not being heard in areas of such as education and decisions about where a child lives
- Parents spoke of children being excluded from mainstream schools because of “health and safety concerns”
A new report on access to justice for children with cognitive disabilities in Ireland has been published by the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway. The project focused on access to justice in three main areas of a child's life: education, decisions about where a child lives and the criminal justice system.
One issue raised by the report was that the child’s voice was often not heard in proceedings. Existing laws are not interpreted or used consistently to accommodate for the voice of the child in Ireland, according to the report. Interviews with experts consistently showed that cultural and attitudinal barriers often operate to exclude children with cognitive disabilities in non-criminal proceedings.
The report’s co-author Dr Eilionóir Flynn, Acting Director of the Centre for Disability Law & Policy at NUI Galway, said: “We need to involve children with disability. The mantra should be ‘nothing about us without us’. Access to justice for children with cognitive disabilities in Ireland would include first and foremost access to education (including mainstream education) and educational supports for children with cognitive disabilities. Importantly, children with cognitive disabilities should be meaningfully involved in decision making about where they attend school. The appeals procedure should include views of the child and have the requisite supports to enable a child with a cognitive disability to do so.”
Jennifer Kline of the Centre for Disability Law & Policy at NUI Galway, who co-authored the report, said, “Children with disabilities face real barriers, for example, in term of inclusive education. Parents spoke of children being excluded from mainstream schools because of “health and safety concerns” which they found very hard to contest. The key barriers identified included the timeframe for complaints and the lack of support to make a complaint. Also of concern were delays and inaccessibility of hearing processes, and retaliation for complaints made.”
The report is part of an EU funded-project involving similar studies in Lithuania, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia and the United Kingdom.
The project gathered data in these EU countries on access to justice for children with mental disabilities and developed standards in relation to protection of privacy, child participation, accessible information, legal representation and protective measures. As well as promoting this research, it developed training and educational materials for use by policy-makers, the judiciary and the police.