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Children's Ombudsman wants law change over SNA crisis

Dozens of parents contacted Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan with complaints about SNA allocations for their children – but under current law, Logan is not able to deal with them.

Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children
Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

CHILDREN’S OMBUDSMAN EMILY Logan is seeking a change to the law to enable her to deal with parents who have complaints about Special Needs Assistant allocations.

In July, the government won a motion to cap the number of  SNAs at 10,575, which angered many parents, children and teachers, who protested at Leinster House.

Dozens of parents have come to the Ombudsman’s office in recent months to make a complaint about SNA allocations for their children. The body which deals with SNA allocations is the National Council for Special Education.

The Ombudsman commented:

At present the Ombudsman for Children’s Office cannot accept complaints about SNA allocations as the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is outside of the investigation remit of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. However, we are making every effort to change this.

The Ombudsman for Children has the power to suggest changes to the Ombudsman for Children Act, 2002, which sets out the role and authority of her office.

The Ombudsman wrote to the former health Minister, Mary Harney requesting that the NCSE be brought within her remit and also met with the CEO of the NCSE, who said they are agreeable to come under her investigation remit.

A spokesperson for the Ombudsman said that people calling the office would have had concerns about their children having access to an SNA and the number of hours they felt they should have been getting.

A review of the full act will be made this year. As well as the SNA issue it will look at the Ombudsman’s ability to deal with complaints from young children in St Pat’s prison, which is currently outside of their complaints remit.

We firmly believe these children need access to an independent complaint mechanism. So we are looking at the act in its entirety.

It is hoped that progress will be made later this year or early next year.

The Ombudsman would work independently on complaints about SNAs and would see if there has been maladministration and if there has been an adverse effect on the child involved.

It would then look to see if the public body is following its own policy and if not has the child been negatively affected.

The Ombudsman tries to encourage local resolution as much as possible but can decide if it needs to progress to a full investigation.

“If people have concerns in other areas about the same child we are still here,” commented the spokesperson. “And if people are in doubt in any way they should feel free to contact us on freephone 1850 20 20 40 or through our website.”

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman said she encourages the NCSE “to be as transparent as possible about its decision-making process and to communicate more openly with parents”.

Read: Government wins Dáil vote on SNAs>

Read: Thousands expected at protests against Special Needs cutbacks>

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