Boy with autism ‘distressed’ after being put in wetsuit against mother’s wishes to prevent smearing faeces

Ombudsman for Children’s Office finds ‘notable increase in complexity’ of complaints cases

An intellectually disabled boy with autism and complex needs was put in a wetsuit at school despite his mother’s objections to prevent him smearing faeces, a report from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) has found.

The case of the 14 year-old boy, known as Ryan, is included in the OCO’s 2023 annual report, published on Tuesday.

Ryan was “distressed and very upset” by being restrained in a wetsuit. Being non-verbal, he began “acting out” and becoming visibly upset going to school. His mother told the OCO she made a child protection referral to Tusla but “no action had been taken”. Following an OCO investigation the school apologised to Ryan and his mother and acknowledged it had no policy for situations where mechanical restraint would be used.

It introduced a new policy with guidance for teachers to promote positive behaviour rather than sanctions. “The school has informed us that it found drafting and ratifying this policy challenging in the absence of any guidelines from the Department of Education,” the OCO says.


Tusla acknowledged their inaction was due to “incomplete information regarding the wetsuit”. They have taken steps to address this with Ryan’s mother directly and followed up with the school.

The case is one of 1,790 complaints made to the OCO last year – a slight reduction on the 1,812 in 2022. A “notable increase in the complexity” of cases is noted in the report, with 20 per cent relating to multiple agencies.

As in previous years education (40 per cent) was the most complained about issue, including about access to school places, bullying, school transport, the State Exams Commission and complaint procedures in schools. Health (23 per cent) complaints concerned hospital services, child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) and disability services.

Complaints about Tusla accounted for 23 per cent of complaints, including from children in residential care, while local authority housing-related complaints accounted for 7 per cent. Complaints regarding children’s welfare in direct provision and obtaining passports were received, and 4 per cent concerned Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) settings, which, despite those settings being heavily Government-funded, the OCO has no mandate to investigate.

Children’s Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon was “increasingly aware and concerned” about “discrimination and racism” experienced by children. “In this new Ireland, these issues are not going away and need to be addressed with young people themselves,” he said.

“Serious concerns” about expert reports in family law cases came to the OCO’s attention in 2023. Particular concerns included absence of regulation and oversight of experts; lack of transparency about experts’ qualifications; the sometimes “poor quality” of their reports.

“There is evidence that, among some experts, there is a lack of expertise and training on the dynamics of abuse and coercive control in the context of custody and access arrangements. We have also been made aware of a failure to recognise children as victims of domestic violence, including as witnesses of domestic violence and abuse in the family,” says the OCO.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times