Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Questions (155)

Eoin Ryan

Question:

239 Mr. Eoin Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of children reported homeless in Dublin in the year 2004-05; the programmes in place by the child care policy unit of her Department to tackle child homelessness; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4207/06]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The youth homelessness strategy was published on 31 October 2001. The strategy provides a strategic framework for youth homelessness to be tackled on a national basis. The goal of the strategy is to reduce and if possible eliminate youth homelessness through preventative strategies and where a child becomes homeless to ensure that he or she benefits from a comprehensive range of services aimed at reintegrating him/her into his or her community as quickly as possible. Under the strategy, the former health boards, now the Health Service Executive, have lead responsibility for implementation of the strategy and they prepared detailed action plans in this regard to address youth homelessness in line with the objectives set out in the strategy. During 2005, my Department requested the HSE to undertake a review of the action plans to ascertain the extent of their implementation. A report on this matter is awaited.

In addition to the above, the national children's office, now part of the recently established Office of the Minister for Children, had been assigned responsibility by the Cabinet committee in co-ordinating and monitoring the implementation of the youth homelessness strategy. In this regard, the youth homelessness strategy monitoring committee, under the chairmanship of the aforementioned national children's office and representative of the child care policy unit of my Department and other relevant stakeholders, was established. The committee identified key areas, which required attention in order to drive the implementation of the strategy in an effective, co-ordinated way, on a nationwide basis.

A number of sub-groups were established as follows. The programme of action for children office, a unit within the health board structure with a co-ordinating function across all health board regions, agreed to take on the co-ordination and linkages functions within the HSE arena. The Office of the Minister for Children will continue to deal with cross-sectoral co-ordination issues. National guidelines on leaving and aftercare were approved by the monitoring committee and were circulated by my Department to the former health boards in July 2004. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist the HSE in developing its leaving and aftercare policies with the aim of, inter alia, protecting those leaving care who may be vulnerable to homelessness. The statistics sub-group recommended the introduction of a new youth homelessness contact form as a way of gathering more reliable and consistent statistics. My Department circulated the form to the former health boards in December 2003 for introduction on 1 January 2004. A total of 492 children appeared to the Health Service Executive to be homeless in 2004 as per provisional statistical returns. These returns have yet to be validated with the Health Service Executive.

A sub-group was established to look at the education and training objectives of the youth homelessness strategy. Membership of the group included representatives of the statutory and voluntary education and health sectors. It was agreed that there was a need to look at a broad understanding of the homelessness process to understand the potential impact of education and training elements as part of the solution for young people who are homeless. Consideration was given to the preventive aspect of educational and training interventions; processes to ensure that education and training elements form part of the ongoing support of children and young people who are homeless; and the role of education and training in the prevention and reintegration of children in the care or detention systems. The group finalised its report and it was sent to the relevant Departments, the National Educational Welfare Board and the Health Service Executive on 21 June 2005.

A sub-group was established to examine information and advocacy in the context of the youth homelessness strategy, with a particular focus on making relevant information more accessible to young homeless people or young people at risk of becoming homeless. The group finalised its report and it was sent to my Department, the Health Service Executive and Comhairle on 21 November 2005. Since the publication of the youth homelessness strategy, significant progress has been made. Approximately €12 million has been allocated by the Department of Health and Children to the former health boards for the development of youth homelessness services since 2001. A total of 195 new whole-time equivalent posts were filled across the Health Service Executive, up to 31 December 2004. Although these posts impact on youth homelessness services, they are not all exclusively dedicated to youth homelessness services. Eleven new units have opened nationwide. Over 42 new or extended services, including aftercare, have been developed around the country.

The Health Service Executive is responsible for the management and delivery of health and personal social services. In recent years many services have been developed to counter the problem of youth homelessness in the Dublin region. The crisis intervention service for young people out of home is based in the city centre and includes an outreach service, emergency out of hours social work service, reception centre, residential units and a day centre. A director for homelessness was appointed in the former eastern regional health authority, or Health Service Executive eastern area, in 2000. This is now the role of the national care group manager social inclusion since the establishment of the Health Service Executive. In Cork, Liberty Street House became fully operational in 2003, and acts as a focal point for youth homelessness services in Cork. The centre provides a variety of services, social work, medical, financial advice for young people out of home or in danger of becoming homeless.

Services for homeless children are also provided by the other Health Service Executive areas and generally these are provided as part of the child protection and welfare services. The services provided include units for young people out of home supported lodgings, and the provision of out-reach, leaving and aftercare services.