Eversheds Sutherland partners with Children’s Rights Alliance

Eversheds Sutherland partners with Children's Rights Alliance

Eoin Mac Aodha

Eversheds Sutherland has partnered with the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) to boost the number of free legal advice clinics offering support to children and their families.

The new partnership was announced as the CRA launched its 2020 annual report, showing that education has overtaken family law issues as the top issue for callers to its helpline for the first time.

Eoin Mac Aodha, partner at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “We are delighted to partner with the Children’s Rights Alliance and to support those in need who contact the helpline seeking legal advice.

“We recognise, particularly as a result of lockdown, that there are significant challenges for children and young people and we want to use our privilege of legal expertise to assist some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“We hope the legal clinics, in some small way, will provide legal assistance by contributing to people’s understating and awareness of their legal rights and improve their access to justice.

“This is the first time that we have done pro bono work solely focused on children’s rights. At Eversheds Sutherland, we have a history of pro bono work. We have a pro bono committee and standardised approach to this work and we partner with the Public Interest Alliance to identify pro bono opportunities for our lawyers.”

According to the annual report, one in four callers to the CRA’s helpline in 2020 had queries concerning education, including the the impact of Covid-19 on children’s education and the prevalence of reduced timetables.

Julie Ahern, legal and policy manager at the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “One of the most concerning education issues emerging from calls to the helpline is the use of reduced school days or reduced timetables.”

She added: “Reduced timetables is one of the most serious human rights issues impacting children, as it restricts their constitutional rights to access education.

“The lasting impact it can have on a child’s life cannot be ignored as ultimately, it reduces their opportunities to build relationships with their peers or fulfil their full potential.”

Ms Ahern elaborated that there is currently no formal system for recording reduced timetabling systems in the education system and she warned that without this the practice could be misused and children’s rights to education are at risk. She called for guidelines to be published urgently.

She also said that families often have additional stress and worry at the start of the new school year and that there is a “clear gap in public awareness of how to deal with concerns relating to school policies and the education system in Ireland”.

Chief executive Tanya Ward said the report “shines an important spotlight on the impact of Covid-19 and the legal issues facing children, young people and their families”.

She said: “It is clear some families are struggling. Struggling to navigate a complex justice system or an education system that is not meeting the needs of their child. Some families simply do not know where to go to find the right support or an advocate who will help them.

“During the pandemic engaging with these systems became all the more difficult. Accessing legal advice specifically on children’s rights and issues can be almost impossible for most families.

“Children and young people under 18 have no enforceable right to legal aid or legal advice. They cannot take cases on their own. The government needs to step up and step in, to help fight for the rights of children and help them have their voices heard because right now, many feel like they are doing it alone.”

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