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 Header Item Child Protection (Continued)
 Header Item Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children
 Header Item Homelessness Strategy

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 938 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone] In this way, any child who is in harm's way, whether because of self-harm or any child care or protection issues, will be dealt with appropriately and not left to chance, or dealt with inappropriately because of a lack of interagency co-operation.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

 46. Deputy Eamon Ryan Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the way in which her Department is working with the Departments of Justice and Equality, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Education and Skills and Health to ensure that concerted adequate provision is made for refugee minors in all aspects of State responsibility on entry into Ireland, in view of the complexity of the integration process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7044/17]

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I do not know if the Minister read the Sunday Times magazine, because she had a busy day yesterday. However, Christina Lamb had an article in that paper about unaccompanied migrant children. Some 25,800 unaccompanied minors arrived in Italy last year, half of whom have now gone missing. Some 91% of the children on those boats coming across the Mediterranean do not have their parents with them. We now have a slave trade or trafficking problem as well as a migration one. In that context, it is welcome that we have the Dáil motion on taking in such children, but there is no legislative basis for it. In addition, it is not clear what rights such children will be granted. How will the Minister be working with other Departments to define those rights and ensure that we play our part in what is an incredible tragedy across Europe at the moment?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I am working closely with my Government colleagues in regard to unaccompanied minors being received through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. The new International Protection Act 2015 has been commenced and it contains an enhanced provision from the previous legislation. It allows the Tánaiste to recognise the children from Calais as programme refugees. This means that the children can be accepted into the country, with refugee status, once they have completed identity, age and security checks. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, receives these children into care. It also looks after unaccompanied minors who arrive at our ports and are referred by the immigration services.

My colleagues, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I are working closely to progress the Dáil resolution on unaccompanied minors who were previously in unofficial camps near Calais. Tusla staff have undertaken two missions to France so far to meet and assess a number young people who have a desire to come to Ireland.

At the end of last year, I visited Greece and saw the valuable work being done under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. I met with resilient families and young people who need our help. My Department is part of the programme, which co-ordinates the interdepartmental and interagency work, and includes the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health. I supported the setting up of an IRPP office to facilitate improved co-ordination by arranging the secondment of a senior Tusla manager to it. Separately, Tusla has seconded a social work team leader to the Reception and Integration Agency, in the Department of Justice and Equality, to assist with its work with families living in direct provision.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I thank the Minister for that reply. I have some specific follow-on questions but if she cannot answer them directly perhaps her Department could write to me. I am keen to know whether children will be entitled to family reunification rights after they have been relocated to Ireland. If so, will this extend to their parents, siblings and grandparents? In many cases, these children only have distant relatives, so what are the provisions in that regard? I understand many of these children may be 16 or 17 years old, so what kind of supports will be provided to them once they turn 18?

As regards those minors coming from Calais, I understand that the UK Government has taken 750, which is roughly half the unaccompanied minors. Does the Minister have any details of the numbers she expects to take from Calais? Have they been identified and selected for relocation to Ireland? What collaboration has gone on with the French authorities in that selection process?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I will try to answer.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I am sorry. There were a few questions.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone There were two or three questions. In regard to family reunification rights for any unaccompanied minor who comes into the country by whatever route he or she arrives, one of the first things Tusla engages in is finding family members and assisting the child in being reunited with them. Young people who were formerly in the Calais camps will come in under a different legal mechanism. They will already have refugee status which provides them with more security and a sense of stability in traumatic and stressful circumstances. Having arrived in six to eight weeks' time, if we find when engaging with them and assessing their particular needs that they wish to be reunited with their family, that is one of the first things we try to support them with. I know there was another question but I will be happy to address that the next time.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan On a slightly wider front, I understand that those unaccompanied minors from Calais are, in a sense, going to be treated in the same way as the 160,000 refugees from Italy or Greece the European Union has agreed we would take as programme refugees. In that regard, however, I understand that only 8,000 of those refugees have been relocated, and there are only 171 unaccompanied minors in total. Where are we in our commitment to accept approximately 4,000 refugees from Greece, in particular, but also within that European programme? Those 160,000 were meant to be catered for by September 2017. Where will we be by September in terms of our commitment? How many unaccompanied minors will there be within the overall total we may take under that scheme, which I understand is the one the Minister is using?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I can certainly get the information on how many we have taken in under the terms of the overall programme. The numbers are increasing subsequent to the visit the Tánaiste and I made to Greece to solidify the kinds of practices undertaken between both countries. It is approximately 2,000 now but I will have to check.

I am clear about the unaccompanied minors. There was a commitment in the initial programme for 20, and we have approximately four or five now. One of the issues concerning unaccompanied minors coming from an Italian route was that we were not provided with an opportunity to address security and bring gardaí over with us to identify those young people. That has inhibited the numbers coming in. At the same time we have already identified 16 coming through the Calais route on the two missions that my Department, Tusla and the Department of Justice and Equality have been engaged in. We anticipate that we will be able to identify up to 40 before the summer using that route. They will be fully provided with supports, including efforts to integrate, which was the original context of the Deputy's question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Hildegarde Naughton has requested that Question No. 47 be answered by way of a written reply.

  Question No. 47 replied to with Written Answers.

Homelessness Strategy

 48. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone her views on children of homeless parents being put into care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7030/17]

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger It is good to see the Minister for Social Protection sitting beside the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, today. I wonder why that is. I am sure the Minister will join with me in expressing solidarity with the women and men who are on strike at Tesco. They work to prevent their kids from falling into poverty.

My question relates to the greatest fear that parents have of their children being taken into care. I am not referring to children at real risk, which I fully support. I am talking about people who are victims of the homelessness crisis. I have good reason to believe that this is happening and they are being forced to put their own children into care.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Being homeless is distressing and stressful for children and adults alike. In the context of the Child Care Act 1991, my Department has policy responsibility for children under 18 years of age who present as "out of home" without their parent or guardian.

Children under the age of 16 who present as homeless without their parent or guardian are taken into care. Children aged 16 and 17 may be taken into care or provided with a service under section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991 which deals with accommodation for homeless children. Children who are homeless and in emergency accommodation are in the care of their parent or guardian. Notwithstanding the clearly challenging circumstances that families in emergency accommodation find themselves, I do not think that residing in emergency accommodation, in and of itself, should be the basis for taking children into care.

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