Lack of State data on children very frustrating, says human rights chief

Problems in child mental health services would have been revealed earlier if Ireland had introduced UN proposals, says Sinéad Gibney

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioner has said the State’s failure to provide basic data makes it difficult for the commission to do its job.

Sinéad Gibney, who is in Geneva where Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman will meet the UN today, said the UN had been briefed on the Mental Health Commission’s report on the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs).

Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Children in 1992 and engages with the commission on a regular basis, she said.

A major concern was the lack of real-time data about issues relating to children such as waiting lists, access to services, experience of the judicial system, trends and issues.


“What we cannot measure we cannot change,” Ms Gibney told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

Ms Gibney said the problems with Camhs would have come to light a lot earlier if Ireland had implemented recommendations made by the UN.

The question the UN wanted answered was: Why, when Ireland is such a wealthy country do you have such long waiting lists?, she said.

“There are thresholds with regard to the rights of the child that have not been met given the evidence that we’re seeing coming through.

“Waiting lists, access to services, they are not appropriate to where Ireland is at as a nation. It is surprising where we rank compared to other countries. Given the wealth and the status of Ireland, we are coming up very short, with services for young people we are not meeting our obligations under the UN Convention,” Ms Gibney said.

The commission was very frustrated at the lack of data in relation to children, she added.

“To do our job effectively we need to understand specific experiences – access to services etc. Because the State is very poor at collecting information, it makes it very difficult for us to do our job.”

Ms Gibney called on the State to show “a bit more humility”. Ireland should be honest about “what we’re grappling with” so that it could get precise and helpful recommendations from the UN, she said.

An interim report by the Mental Health Commission identified a serious risk to the safety and wellbeing of children accessing the service, including 140 young people with open cases who had “been lost to follow-up”.

The report also noted poor monitoring of medication in the system; children waiting days in emergency departments for psychiatric care; staff being exhausted, overwhelmed and inadequately supervised; psychiatrists not trained to work with children being employed in Camhs; and poor risk management and clinical governance within the service.

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a media monitor and reporter