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47connect 2016 Q. How did you start the Childrens Law Centre Paddy In 1995 as we were emerging from our conflict here in Northern Ireland there was a realization that while human rights was a big issue during the conict childrens rights had very little focus. Our children had suffered as a result of the conict yet there was no framework to actually address some of those decits in terms of childrens rights because childrens rights are human rights. So a group of people managed to get together and get a very small amount of funding and I set up the Center in 1997 with two staff members. The idea was to have a multidisciplinary team using the law to improve childrens lives. Q. How do you serve children today Paddy Through our free phone legal advice line we provide advice and help individual children but we also monitor what is wrong with the way society treats children. We listen to children with mental health needs or childrenwhocantaccesseducationorchildrenwhoaresufferingdiscrimi- nation because theyre disabled. We take strategic cases where we change the law by setting precedent or by engaging with government. Were always hoping not to improve the life of an individual child but all children. We are often the voice that guides government on how they should change their policies to ensure that all children benet from proper health- care and educational support and access to child appropriate mental health services. We also have a group of young people who are peer advocates. Kathryn The Ireland Funds will be helping us advocate for children who have special educational needs. There are 74000 children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland. In 201415 CLC dealt with 590 advice issues relating to children with SEN and the numbers are rising. Q. How will support from The Ireland Funds impact children with special educational needs Paddy The biggest issue that we get calls about is the childs right to education. This is particularly signicant for children with additional learning support needs disability and mental health needs. Its also really important because education is the single biggest determinate in terms of future life chances. The money weve received from The Ireland Funds is going to be so critical for those children and young people. We are conscious that in areas where children are living in poverty children and families may not know we exist. They wont be able to come to our Center or even know to lift the phone to call our helpline. So what were doing with the grant from The Ireland Funds is to go out to those communities. To reach out to them and say this is the type of service we have. To go to groups who are working with parents of children with additional needs whether its autism Aspergers ADHD or another need and support them to get whatever facilities or services their children are entitled to. Q. You also focus strongly on mental health needs in Northern Ireland Paddy Our Peer Advocates young people who are in the community and on the ground did a piece of research recently that revealed a scary statistic which was that 27 of our children here have identied as having mental health needs. Families who have been most impacted by the conict tend to be in areas that are socio-economically deprived. They dont have safe parks or sufcient community resources. So these are very vulnerable children. The lack of services and support for children with mental health needs is staggering. Less than 8 of the total mental health budget is spent on children. Thats despite the fact that children make up nearly 24 of our population. Both Protestant and Catholic areas are affected. There are a high number of young people taking their own lives. Parents have suffered loss as a result of the conict. Some parents have been in prison. Mental health issues are compounded by poverty and those areas have not beneted from our peace process. Q. So help us understandhow does a child come to you Kathryn Children and families often have difculty in accessing friendly legaladvice.AttheChildrensLawCentrewehaveadedicatedMentalHealth Solicitor. We empower children to be involved in their own cases. Theres one regional child and adolescent inpatient facility for mental health as- sessment and treatment based in Belfast. It serves the whole population of Northern Ireland. Theres another facility that we work closely with which deals with children who have severe learning difculties and mental health needs. So with those two units we will go in and we will meet with the young people. We will take their instructions and we will advise them in relation to their case and we will also assess whether or not theyre in a position to give us legal instructions. We will support their families we will meet with their parents and sometimes their grandparents and we will provide legal support. Paddy The other thing thats just an example of what we are trying to do in terms of mental health links in to homelessness. We had a case involving a young person who came from a very troubled family really should have been looked after as avulnerable young person. He had been living in transitional accommodation but had identied with his doctor that he had mental health needs. So he was admitted into a mental health facility for a short period for medical assessment. What nobody had told him was that once hed gone in there hed lose hisplaceintheaccommodationhewasin.Hewasonly16.Hebecamehome- less and was a very troubled and vulnerable young person. So our Mental Health Solicitor took that case to the High Court. Kathryn and her colleagues set a legal precedent in this case. As a result there is now clarity regarding the duty that Northern Irelands health and social care providers have to assess and accommodate all homeless 16 and 17 year olds. So that one case changed the lives of a huge number of children. Q. What makes you dierent from other law resources Kathryn Were proud that we have very positive feedback from parents and also from professionals. Were a not for prot organization so we wont always go for the jugular just to take the case. What well try to do rst is me- diate. We have very strong established relationships with health and edu- cation professionals including mental health professionals and also with a large number of stake holder organizations who are involved in strategic partnerships in relation to children with disability. We get a lot of referrals in from other agencies who will say Weve tried to solve this problem but you have the legal expertise. What would CLC do Can we refer this client to CLCTheresminimallegalaidformanyofthecaseswetakeon. Therefore its not lucrative for private practitioners to engage and do this type of work. So we provide that service and ll that gap. Wehaveareputationnow.Wehaveahighlyqualiedandexperiencedstaff. Wedonttakevexatiouscaseswedontmakevexatiouscomplaints.Whenthe authorities get a letter saying were threatening proceedings they realize there must be an issue here and there will be an engagement. They know that we can take it through. . . .