As the Deputy will be aware, on 4 December 2014, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government hosted a special summit on homelessness to reaffirm the Government's commitment to ending involuntary long-term homelessness, including that of families with children, by the end of 2016. A number of actions arising from the summit were formalised into an action plan to address homelessness, and substantial progress has been made in implementing that plan. Overall progress is overseen by the Cabinet committee on social policy and public service reform. The plan and progress reports are available on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government website.
The December 2014 action plan to address homelessness includes a commitment for the Child and Family Agency and Dublin City Council to co-ordinate operations to ensure that services are fully responsive to the particular protection and welfare needs that might arise for families in emergency accommodation.
The Child and Family Agency has advised me that it has had meetings with Focus Ireland, the Department of Social Protection and Dublin City Council on vulnerable families and issues facing care leavers. The agency intends to create a multi-agency protocol to be clear about individual agency and multi-agency responsibilities with regard to homelessness, and work on this will commence shortly.
In cases in which there are welfare or protection concerns about children in families presenting as homeless, the reporting of such concerns to the Child and Family Agency is governed by the Children First guidelines.
In addition, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government recently issued a ministerial direction to the four Dublin local authorities and certain other housing authorities prioritising homeless households and other vulnerable groups, including young people leaving State care, for housing in their respective areas for a six-month period. This measure should reduce the number of homeless persons, including families, in emergency accommodation.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
Policy responsibility for homelessness, in so far as it extends to my Department, relates to children under 18 and any child welfare and protection concerns that may arise in the context of the Child Care Act 1991. A child can only be received into the care of the Child and Family Agency where there are welfare or protection concerns and, as part of this process, care plans are devised to address the identified needs of the child. These care plans may, in certain instances, refer to additional supports required by the child’s family.
Homelessness as part of a family group is not of itself a basis for seeking to receive a child into care. Furthermore, there is no statutory basis for the preparation of care plans for families with children entering emergency accommodation.