I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 124 together.
I understand that the Deputies are referring to particular cases where children and their families find themselves without a home. In cases where families with children find themselves without a home, the primary need is for accommodation and responsibility for this lies with local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
In February 2013, the Minister for Housing and Planning published the Government's Homelessness Policy Statement in which the aim to end long term homelessness by the end of 2016 was outlined. The statement emphasises a housing led approach which is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. The availability and supply of secure, affordable and adequate housing is essential in ensuring sustainable tenancies and ending long term homelessness. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has established a Homelessness Oversight Group for the purposes of reviewing the progress of the approach being advocated, identifying obstacles and proposing solutions. An official from my Department is a member of the Interdepartmental Group dealing with homelessness.
However, if the concern is a child protection one the Child and Family Agency, as the statutory agency with responsibility for child protection and welfare, will intervene. When concerns are raised about children, the Agency provides assessments and services and this includes children under 18 who may be without a home. In the first instance, a social worker will establish the reason the young person has left home and if they can return. The assessment will also identify any needs including whether the child needs to be taken into care. If that happens, they will be placed in foster or residential care.
The Deputies may be aware that my Department published a report last year on the implementation of the Youth Homelessness Strategy. This strategy was published by the Department of Health and Children in 2001. The Centre for Effective Services undertook the review at my Department’s request. The report called Every Child a Home: A Review of the Implementation of the Youth Homelessness Strategy was published in July 2013. It found that there has been significant improvement in service responses to children presenting as homeless in the last decade. Consequently, the number of children and young people accessing services through the homeless sector has decreased. In the first instance, children and young people who present to the Child and Family Agency are assessed to rule out any care and protection issues and some family work may take place to facilitate a young person’s return home.
My Department has engaged with relevant departments including Environment, Community and Local Government; Education and Skills; Social Protection and Health as well as the Child and Family Agency seeking their views on how the recommendations of Every Child a Home relevant to each sector might be progressed.