Plenary 4: Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan – Respecting the Voice of the Child

Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan began by giving a brief background to her Office. It has been in operation for three years and began with fifteen staff and a small budget of €280,000. The Office has so far received 1700 complaints from children. Children were involved from the very establishment of the office. A constant theme that ran throughout Logan’s address is that the voice of the child is all important. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child addresses this issue; the child has a right to form their own views and to be heard.

In Ombudsman Logan’s experience children attach a great weight to being heard during decisions that may affect them. Many complaints to the Office have come from children who have been subject to administrative decisions with the decision makers underestimating the effect of such decisions on the child. There is a consistent denial of the right to participate in decisions and Ombudsman Logan expressly mentioned the issue of family separation. Other complaints from children involve children in the care of the state. Children are often troubled by their lack of access to siblings when they are in care. Logan pointed out that decision makers often claim to have carried out a comprehensive examination of a particular situation but may not in fact ascertain what the child thinks should happen. Logan also highlighted the recent criticism of teachers about student’s behaviour in class. Their complaints are about very minor disruption and Logan expressed her disappointment about this.

She then presented a series of pictures on power point to reveal a number of findings. She showed that young people often have the capacity to be comfortable with issues such as death that adults are not so comfortable with. A child should never be underestimated because of their age. There are different ways to engage young people to find out what their views are, art is a good example. Participation of the child does not always have to be resource intensive.

She then went on to show two DVD presentations. The first was of a boy from the Travelling Community talking about his experience in education. Logan pointed out that when he was asked to take part in the DVD he wanted someone else’s voice to be used as he was embarrassed about how he would come across. In fact he highlighted the issues he faced perfectly through his own voice. The second DVD presentation was of the Big Ballot that the Office recently carried out. 75,000 children in 500 schools took part across a broad section of the community. The ballot sought to find out what were the concerns facing children in Ireland today at a time of rapid change. Not everyone is happy with the work of the Office and one individual did bring a legal challenge against the ballot for undermining the place of the family in the Irish Constitution.

In conclusion Ombudsman Logan stressed that legislation is required to properly hear the voice of the child. People working with children can make the difference while waiting for this change.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.