Promises to Children

The Irish  Society  for  the  Prevention of Cruelty to Children  (ISPCC)  is the national child protection and child welfare charity. We develop and deliver a range of services to keep children safe, including the national listening service, Childline, which answered over 460,000 calls in 2014. Furthermore we provide a range of prevention and early intervention services to children and families across Ireland, and we invest heavily in quality assurance to ensure our services meet the highest standards and deliver positive outcomes. Our policy work is informed by the skills, insight and experience of our child protection and child welfare professionals, who work with children and families on a daily basis.

The ISPCC is calling on all election candidates to make their promise to children to invest in childhood.

The Promises..

We want the next government to recognise that cyber safety is the child protection issue of our time, publish a national strategy on children’s cyber safety within 100 days and immediately ratify UN treaties to protect children online.

Our Stats 1:

  • 37,000 contacts were made to Childline in 2014 about abuse and violence - much of this took place online.

Facts & Figures:

  • 72% of Irish children use the internet daily at home 2
  • 1 in 5 children in Ireland (20%) say that they have been bothered by something online in the past year 3

Online safety is the child protection issue of our time.  As technology advances, new risks for children are emerging- including child exploitation; privacy breaches; grooming, violence and abuse.  While these extreme cases continue to affect a minority of children, online usage presents myriad of other general risks including online bullying, access to age inappropriate content, and access to violent imagery.  ISPCC sees at first hand the impact on children of viewing age inappropriate content, in particular the harm it can do to a child’s development, the impact it has on their own relationships and how it can impact a child’s understanding of acceptable behaviour. 

Previous ISPCC research 4 reported that:

  • Almost a quarter of young people do not use privacy settings
  • 17% of the secondary age children and 13% of the primary group said they have given their full name to someone online whom they had never met; with 10% of the older group admitting to also giving personal details such as email address, mobile number or photo.
  • Over 2,000 (16%) of the secondary group surveyed stated that they had met up with someone from online

If we are to meet our obligations to children to ensure their right to be safe from violence, we need a national effort to achieve this goal.  Ireland currently does not have a specific national strategy or policy for preventing and responding to online cyber threats towards children. A national strategy on children’s cyber safety should be prioritised in the first 100 days of the new government. The strategy should include the establishment of a Task Force which includes government, agencies, independent organisations, the technology industry and children and young people.  The Task Force should review the efficacy of the existing legal framework, and should have prevention, detection and response as its core priorities. 

As part of this work, it is critical that government ratifies two important international conventions - the Budapest and Lanzarote conventions- to ensure the highest standards of protection for Irish children, and to ensure that Ireland plays its part in international cooperation to keep children safe online.  

1 See local representatives for local stats/facts
2 Net Children go mobile – Full findings from Ireland
3 Net Children go mobile – Full findings from Ireland

Fully resource the protection, welfare and mental health of our children: Ensure that every child who needs it, can access a social worker day or night. Ensure that every child who needs it can access a mental health professional within a month. Ensure that any children who have been sexually abused have access to free and confidential counselling services.

Our Stats5 :

  • In 2014, the ISPCC provided support services to 490 children and families in need of our therapeutic services to build their resilience to cope with the challenges they face. 
  • 13% contacts to Childline regarding Mental Health including depression, self-harm and suicide.
  • Childline receives the majority of its 13,000 calls and messages per week after 6pm each evening, when most other support services are closed.
  • Anecdotal evidence from across our child and family support services suggests that in some cases children can wait as long as eighteen months for a referral to a child psychologist.

Facts & Figures:

  • In July 2015 8,865 children identified as awaiting social work service assessment, with 22% waiting for assessment for more than a year6.
  • 44% of social workers reported an ‘unmanageable caseload burden’7.
  • Staffing levels in CAMHS are 45% of the level recommended by Government8.
  • Estimated economic cost of mental ill health is in the region of €3 billion9.
  • The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has previously recommended that Ireland put in place a nationwide 24-hour service, and this was reiterated by the Ombudsman for Children in its April 2015 Report to the UNCRC, along with a  broader recommendation to sufficiently resource the Child and Family Agency10.
  • Investment in ongoing proactive care delivers greater value for money in the long term. 

ISPCC Childhood Support Workers report increased complexity in their caseloads, as a direct impact of pressure on mental health services.  The knock on impact is the ISPCC receives referrals for children who are in need of mental health services, and in turn are less able to accept referrals from children with less acute needs, who would benefit from our prevention and early intervention services.  As a result, the limited resources that are available are, ironically, not always resulting in the right children receiving the right services.

At the end of June 2015 there were a total of 247 families on our waiting list for this service.

The ISPCC believes that while the ideal is to increase investment in proactive and responsive services, given the level of demand, investment in children’s mental health services in the short term should prioritise children in greatest level of need to enable crisis intervention support to take place, and to reduce the backlog across the country. 

A directly accessible 24 hour social work service is essential for both crisis and early intervention in child protection and welfare concerns as well as family support. Our experience of working with children and families demonstrates that we must have a more effective balance between a system which responds to need in times of crisis, and a system which promotes proactive family support and mental health. 

ISPCC has been calling for the establishment of a 24-hour on-call social work service for children, and this service is long overdue. Following the publication of Budget 2016 the announcement was made that TUSLA’s funding would be increased by €38million, to include the delivery of a national Out-of-Hours Social Work Support Service to An Garda Síochána; this is to be welcomed as a positive first step however it is not sufficient. The ISPCC believes that such a 24 hour services must be directly accessible to children and families.  ISPCC supports the case made by TUSLA for increased investment in skilled social work staff, and would reiterate that investment of this kind has an immediate positive impact on waiting lists and a knock on impact on other services. 

5 See local representatives for local stats/facts
6 Child and Family Agency (July 2015) ‘Review of Cases Awaiting Allocation’.
7 Child and Family Agency (July 2015) ‘Review of Cases Awaiting Allocation’.
8 5th Annual Report
9 A report by the Mental Health Commission “Economics of Mental Health Care in Ireland report” (2008)
10 Children’s Ombudsman (April 2015) ‘Report of the Ombudsman for Children to the UNCRC on the occasion of the examination of Ireland’s consolidated Third and Fourth Report to the Committee’.

The ISPCC recommends a change in legislation and practice so that all homeless children or children seeking asylum are given the right to assistance and that all emergency, temporary and direct provision accommodation is safe and meets the needs of children.

Our Stats11:

  • In 2014, Childline responded to 1074 contacts from children in relation to homelessness, asylum, or children running away from home.

Facts & Figures

  • Children are directly affected where families are at risk of, or where they experience homelessness both in terms of their physical and mental health and well-being, their ability to retain important social networks, risk to their educational attainment and access to safe spaces to play.
  • The current Direct Provision system is not fit for purpose with families living in inappropriate cramped conditions and children having nowhere to play do homework or lead a normal healthy childhood.

The ISPCC is deeply concerned at the numbers of households with children living in unsuitable temporary accommodation that is not designed for families, and is usually provided without appropriate housing management or support services.  We are concerned that children’s safety could be severely at risk unless safe and secure places to play are provided for children; safe cooking and washing facilities, and access to communal areas that are well-monitored. 

To protect children, other countries have placed bans of the provision of unsuitable hostel or other emergency accommodation for children- on the basis that it is ill-equipped to meet their needs, and the ISPCC believes a similar approach is necessary in Ireland to prevent child protection risks where families with children may have to share communal areas.  

The ISPCC has been providing support services to children and families living in so-called Direct Provision and we have publicly welcomed the recommendations contained in the recent report12 from the working group on Ireland’s asylum and protection process, and the establishment of a group to oversee implementation of the recommendations.  Delivery of these changes in the interests of children and families is of paramount importance, and must be resourced in full.

As Ireland meets its obligations under the recent EU relocation programme, the placement of families must be well resourced in order to ensure prevention and mitigation of risk.  Investment is also required in services to enable transitions into the community for families leaving Direct Provision following successful completion of the asylum application process.  A two-tiered system must not be allowed to develop.

The ISPCC has on numerous occasions raised concerns regarding the delays in drafting and implementing legislation for the protection of children seeking asylum. The Immigration Residence and Protection Bill 2010 was stalled a number of years ago and as such the publication of the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill was very much welcomed. It is imperative now that this legislation maintains the best interests of children at its centre and endeavours to treat individuals as children first and asylum seekers second.
In response to child homelessness the ISPCC recommends the development or redesign of purpose designed temporary accommodation; with safety and children’s needs prioritised, onsite support and effective housing management services.

The ultimate intention should be to move families with children out of temporary supported accommodation within six weeks therefore the development of general needs family housing in partnership with social housing providers must be a priority. 

11 See local representatives for local stats/facts
12 %20Direct%20Provision%20and%20the%20Protection%20Process

The ISPCC wants the next government to ensure that we have a nationally available drug and alcohol rehabilitation network for all young people in need.

Our Stats 13:

  • Over 5,100 contacts to Childline about substance use/abuse
  • That’s almost 100 contacts per week

Facts & Figures

  • The use of cannabis and “legal highs” such as benzodiazepams are a chronic issue among adolescents.
  • Cannabis/Head shop drugs being used at a much younger age (8 years of age was the youngest reported)14

ISPCC Childhood Support workers on the ground report that these young people, in crisis, have extremely limited avenues from which to source help.  A major issue at present is the lack of referral pathways and specialist services to deal with addiction issues particularly for the under 18 years age group.

The ISPCC is very concerned by the lack of services specifically designed and targeted at the under-18 age range, and recommends that the National Drugs Task Force pillars regarding treatment and rehabilitation of under-18s are resourced nationally. 

The young people that the ISPCC consult and work with recommend the following:

  • Somewhere in the community that they can “drop into” to talk about things and receive guidance should they need additional help.
  • Therapeutic supports for under 18s that they can avail of easily and confidentially
  • Availability of information about “legal” highs

13 See local representatives for local stats/facts
14 Consultation with other agencies working in the Louth area

Keep our promises to children by putting ‘the best interests of children’ at the heart of all new laws and ensure we fully implement, resource and evaluate – Children First, Sexual Offences Bill, Child Care Act, and Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

Our Stats15 :

  • 37,000 contacts were made to Childline in 2014 about abuse and violence

Facts & Figures

  • The recent passage of the Children First legislation through the Dáil is a milestone for child protection in Ireland.  Long overdue, it ensures that all those who provide services to children are required to commit to their protection through structured systems and procedures for child protection and child safety.
  • Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 includes; New criminal offences to protect children against grooming, new measures to protect children from online predators  and new strengthened offences to address child abuse material.
  • The Child Care Act (1991/2001) is the primary legislation dealing with children who are in need of the protection and care of the State. The purpose of the legislation was to update the law in relation to children, particularly children who have been assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused or who are at risk.
  • ‘Better Outcomes: Brighter Futures’ is the first overarching national policy framework for children and young people aged from birth to 24 years and is intended to be implemented by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in collaboration with all Government departments and key State agencies. The vision of the Framework is to work towards achieving five Outcomes16 identified as most important for children and young people in Ireland.
  • Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 extends guardianship, custody and adoption rights to different family situations and it will give family step-parents and grandparents greater access to children when relationships break down. This change puts the requirements of children front and centre in family law in Ireland.

Children First legislation will place immediate demands and requirements on organisations that work with children.  This will require a significant public education campaign to ensure the new law is heard and understood; it will require accessible guidance and advice for all organisations in Ireland to understand the requirements placed on them; and will require ongoing investment in Garda vetting arrangements to ensure the legislation works in practice.

Children First 2014 includes an amendment which removes the defence of reasonable chastisement from common law, the ISPCC believes that government must now grasp the opportunity to develop and implement a large scale public awareness and positive parenting strategy, to eliminate violence against children and to support parents in alternative positive discipline techniques.

The spirit and intent of any legislation or strategy will remain an ambition rather than a reality if not sufficiently resourced or implemented fully. Evaluation is key to determine the efficacy of policy and legislation.  

15 See local representatives for local stats/facts
16 1. Active and Healthy; Physical and mental wellbeing, 2. Achieving full potential in learning and development, 3. Safe and protected from harm, 4. Economic security and opportunity, 4. Connected respected and contributing to their world

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