Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

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

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 938 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 87 Next Page Last Page

  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone] Where there are no welfare or protection concerns, Tusla's role is to provide family support where this is required. Tusla has agreed a joint protocol with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive which covers child welfare protection matters for children in emergency accommodation. It is fully operational in the Dublin area and it is intended to roll it out across the State. It will be extended to Galway, Limerick and Cork this year.

My Department is working closely with Tusla to provide additional supports for families in emergency accommodation to mitigate the challenges faced by parents and children in this situation. Tusla is funding child support workers for this purpose and has also appointed a homelessness liaison officer. My Department is providing free child care for homeless children in the Dublin area for up to 25 hours a week. Ultimately, my concern is that we minimise and then eliminate the problem of homelessness. In the meantime, I will continue to support measures to help to the greatest degree possible those who are affected.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger The inability to maintain stability and security is used as a euphemism for homelessness when taking the children of homeless parents into care. I am getting information that this is happening in three ways. Orders are being sought by social workers because children are often presenting as frequently ill due to the poor quality of emergency accommodation, lack of routine, bad food, etc. It is also the case that parents feel pressure to voluntarily place their children in care due to the nature of emergency accommodation with drug users and people with addiction issues nearby. Others have had their children forcibly removed as a result of problems stemming from their homeless situation. When I asked the parliamentary question on 31 January, it emerged, amazingly, that Tusla did not keep information on the number of children going into care as a result of homelessness. Tusla seems to keep a lot of information, but not on something like this. The head of Barnardos has said that parents are making the heartbreaking decision to leave their children in care because they are unable to secure appropriate accommodation. It is the biggest child welfare problem we have arising from the homelessness crisis, yet Tusla does not keep any information on the number of parents landing in this situation.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank Deputy Coppinger for setting out the ways in which she has information on her concern that somehow children of homeless parents are entering into a route of care. This not my understanding of how children come into care or from a statutory perspective how they should come into care. I have listened to what Deputy Coppinger has said and I will certainly take it into account and bring it back to my Department and Tusla. Why do children come into care? It is for a wide range of reasons. Deputy Coppinger is identifying some additional ones which we need to investigate. I note what she is identifying there. Children come into care for a range of reasons, including the death of a parent, the serious long-term illness of a parent or the significant ongoing mental illness of a parent. However, homelessness is not a reason to take children into care. The State only intervenes in family life in exceptional cases. Homelessness as part of a family group is not, in and of itself, a basis for seeking to receive a child into care.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Will the Minister give a commitment that Tusla will start to collect this information? How can we know it is not a problem if we do not have the data? It is unbelievable that there are no records on homeless children in care yet Tusla has records on people who give important information to the State. I raise the issue of the Minister's credibility on this. She gave a commitment to the people of Dublin South-West that she would not enter Government without a referendum. She went into Government. She wore a repeal jumper, but would not vote for a repeal Bill. Now, she tells us that she did not think it was significant that Tusla had terrible information about a whistleblower or that the Cabinet should know it. Who can believe a solitary single thing she says at this stage? I question that.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone If there is a child protection concern, Tusla will investigate. The immediate safety of the child is the social work department's first consideration. A social work assessment is child-centred and considers individual and family needs and takes into account the child's development needs, parenting capacity, family and environmental factors. I will certainly raise the issue of the collection of data which the Deputy requests I raise with Tusla. I will come back to her directly on that when I have had discussions with the agency.

In terms of the commitment to children in the context of emergency accommodation and homelessness, the plan Rebuilding Ireland commits to the identification of young people leaving State care who are at risk of homelessness and to catering for them through appropriate housing and other needs supports. The provision of accommodation for young people leaving State care is now eligible for funding under the capital assistance scheme operated by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. That Department and mine are working in conjunction with voluntary bodies to begin to plan for the ways in which we can develop additional housing for those young people who are leaving State care.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

 49. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone further to Parliamentary Question No. 2 of 14 December 2016, her views on the length of time children will spend in State care before they can be fostered by families and while all necessary protocols need to be addressed. [6760/17]

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan My question is a follow-up to a previous one. What length of time will a child spend in State care before he or she can be fostered by families and while all the necessary protocols are being put in place?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Deputy's question last December referred to unaccompanied minors who are received into State care and remain in care until they are 18, whatever their placement type. Tusla is determined to provide a high level of service for unaccompanied children. In order to best meet their needs, all children on arrival in the State are placed in small residential assessment units so that social workers can get to know them and understand their needs. I visited one of these units with European Commissioner Jourová and was very impressed with the facilities and services available and in meeting the young men there. The assessment period is usually in the range of six to eight weeks, but it can be shorter where preliminary work is carried out before the child arrives or where the child's needs are not very complex. Assessments are wide-ranging and take into account age, language, health and well-being, cultural or religious requirements and evaluations of the child's emotional state and mental health. Tusla also tries to identify any family or relations with whom the child might be reunited.

As I noted previously, the equity of care principle that each child receives the same as any other child ensures that services focus on the needs of the child. The child will have a care plan developed to match identified needs. Unaccompanied minors, therefore, receive the same level of protection and care as any other child in State care. There is no differentiation of care provision, practices, care priorities, standards or protocols. Tusla's foster and statutory residential services are subject to inspection, including services for unaccompanied minors. If an unaccompanied minor is to remain in Tusla's care, a foster family will be considered if it is in the best interests of the child. Tusla arranges for training and support for foster families to address the child's cultural and religious identity. For some, however, it is likely that a residential setting may be better suited to meet the identified needs.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan We can all sympathise with the plight of some unaccompanied minors, especially those fleeing war zones, starvation or other particularly difficult situations. Moving those young people into as normal a family life as possible must be the priority. I listened to what the Minister said about the timeframe and it appears to be improving between needs assessment and actual placement. What number of foster parents and families is willing to foster or adopt? In the last Dáil, we had a lot of correspondence from Irish couples and individuals who wanted to foster or adopt from other countries but were unable to do so because certain protocols and agreements were not in place. Does the Department have a waiting list of parents or is there a shortage of parents who are prepared to foster and adopt?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I was asked about the waiting lists for unaccompanied minors and whether there were foster families for them.


Last Updated: 06/06/2018 13:28:24 First Page Previous Page Page of 87 Next Page Last Page