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Championing children

30 November, 1999

Emily Logan was one of seven children and trained as a children’s nurse in Temple Street Hospital in Dublin and at Great Ormond St Hospital, London. She tells us about her work as the Ombudsman for Children in Ireland.

I have the honour of being the first Ombudsman for Children in Ireland. I was appointed to my role by President McAleese in December 2003 following an interview process which involved me being interviewed by fifteen children and young people and three adults.

Threefold role
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office was established in April 2004. The role of the Office is set out in the Ombudsman for Children’s Act, 2002. The role is divided across three functions:

  • Communications and Participation, which is all about hearing what children and young people have to say, and being an independent voice for them at national policy level;
  • Research and Policy, which includes giving advice to Government about the probable effects on children of any changes in law;
  • Complaints and Investigations, which means providing an independent, impartial complaints handling service that can examine how services are provided by public bodies to children and young people under eighteen years of age.

UN Convention
As Ombudsman for Children my job is to promote the rights of children living in Ireland. These rights are set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland ratified in 1992.

Every country in the world, with two exceptions, has signed up to the Convention, including the Holy See, which is a State recognized by international law. It was influential in the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and one of the first to ratify it. The Holy See regards the oresent Convention as a proper and laudable instrument aimed at protecting the rights and interest of children.

In its initial report to the UN, the Holy See begins with an affirmation of the ‘inherent dignity of the child’ in his or her capacity as a human being, which is the source of children’s rights and society’s duties towards children.

Working with children
I am firmly committed to promoting the dignity of children. I take my inspiration from the wide variety of experiences I have had in my twenty-five years working with or for children. During my career in Ireland and the UK, I met some amazing people and witnessed great strength of spirit from adults and children in really tough situations.

Before I became Ombudsman for Children, I trained as a children’s nurse in Temple Street Hospital. I was one of seven children and was clear at an early age that I wanted to work with children. But the training was much more than an academic one: I was eighteen when I saw the first child I looked after die. I witnessed the realities of children’s lives and for the first time realized that children were sometimes harmed by their own families, a reality that was difficult to understand.

I was shocked by some of the things I saw; some of these injustices made me angry, and it was really during this time I realized that on a personal level, I had to try to make a difference. From then on I became more determined to work as hard as I could to help make children and young people’s lives better.

Learning experience
In the mid-1980s I went to work in London, mainly in Great Ormond Street Hospital. It’s famous all over the world for specialist treatment for children, and many children travel from different countries for treatment. This was a great experience, meeting hundreds of children and young people from different countries and cultures, working day by day alongside them.

When children and young people were in hospital for a long time, we got to know them very well and usually someone close to them would stay with them. I learned a lot about how strong children and young people are, how we shouldn’t underestimate their ability to make decisions even at a young age, and how families pull together in these tough situations. I also learned about many religions and cultures and met hundreds of people from different places around the world.

I came back to Ireland in 1997 and worked as Director of Nursing at Crumlin Hospital Dublin for four years. Then I worked as Director of Nursing in Tallaght hospital Dublin for two years.

Ear to the ground
As Ombudsman for Children, I have a lot of power – power that allows me to see if children and young people are getting a fair deal and if they are not, to ask questions of the government and those who make decisions. To do that, I need to keep my ear to the ground and understand what is really going on for children and young people. I work directly with children and young people; this isn’t just about listening to them but about really seeing their perspective.

I am very lucky to be Ombudsman for Children. I am very serious about my job. Sometimes it can be hard – many children have difficult lives and this can be very sad to see, but it is motivation for me to work harder to try to make sure children and young people get a fair deal. Other parts of my job aren’t hard at all – I love the fact that I meet children and young people face to face. This gives me great energy. I find them honest, respectful, intuitive and supportive. They want me to do a good job

This article first appeared in The Messenger (September 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.