HSE assessments on the needs of children are going backwards, Children's Ombudsman Niall Muldoon has warned.
Dr Muldoon has criticised the health service, accusing it of failing in its duty of upholding the rights of children to the best possible healthcare.
There have been a series of damning reports on the state of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) in Ireland.
Dr Muldoon told The Hard Shoulder the need for change has been ignored for years.
"I'm in the job over eight years and it's very clear that there's been a lot of alarm bells rung in that period of time," he said.
"Both in relation to mental health in its wider sense, not just CAMHS but primary care, and other supports.
"If we had started planning and working and moving to change those systems eight years ago, we'd be in a much better position now.
"The HSE have consistently ignored it; we had to carve Tusla out of the HSE in order to get focus on the child protection area."
Dr Muldoon said staffing has been an ongoing issue.
"Within the HSE itself the areas of assessment and need for children with disabilities is going backwards, mental health services are going backwards," he said.
"Now they're in a situation where they're blaming the fact that we don't have staff when we knew five, six, seven years ago that we needed to recruit more people.
"We didn't put the systems in place to do that, and we didn't put the systems in place to protect our children while we were going through that early crisis".
Dr Muldoon said planning budgets on an annual basis is a major issue.
"There's no need for that, politically there's no need for that," he said.
"That hampers forward planning and internationally governments have gone away from that.
"They make long-term, three year plans and fund it and promote it within the system.
"Secondly, there's no shortage of good people wanting to do the right thing.
"But you need political will and strong leadership to break down some of the silos that have developed, and people who want to keep the system as it is.
"As we allow the system to deteriorate, it becomes harder and less attractive for people to come in to work in.
"That then becomes a vicious circle and a self-fulfilling prophecy," he added.
'A failing system'
Dr Muldoon said more services could be opened to children.
"We have a counselling and primary care system which is available for adults, where GPs will refer an adult for counselling for eight [or] 10 sessions," he said.
"If we did that for children... that would show innovation.
"If we had new ways of looking at CAMHS and access to CAMHS, that would show innovation.
"If we had a funding stream, which we knew was specifically for our children within the mental health service, and isn't going to be hijacked by adults or any other area of the health service, that would show a new way of thinking.
"It's that sort of innovative response within the budget that says, 'We're going to trying something different here, we're not just going to try and bolster a failing system'", he added.
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