Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Questions (130)

Finian McGrath


130. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will support the 1,791 children in direct provision centres that are overcrowded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27901/14]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of protection applicants in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision and dispersal.

As at 8 June 2014, there were 4,353 persons availing of direct provision accommodation in 34 centres under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department. Approximately 38 % of these residents are children under the age of 18.

I am assured by RIA that centres are not overcrowded. All accommodation in use by RIA is subject to compliance with the various statutory provisions, including the Housing Acts governing accommodation of the type provided to asylum seekers. All accommodation providers and other companies engaged by the State are required under contract to ensure that all accommodation centres comply and operate in accordance with all of the statutory requirements of local authorities and State agencies in relation to bedroom capacity, food, food hygiene, water supply, fire safety, general safety and so forth. So far as the needs of babies, children and expectant mothers are concerned, rigorous contractual requirements are imposed on accommodation providers.

Temporary overcrowding can occur when the family profile has changed on the basis of age or newly arrived family member. For example, under RIA policy, children aged 10 years or more should not share a bedroom with a family member of the opposite gender. In those circumstances, where it is not possible to provide additional accommodation within the centre, RIA offers alternative accommodation at another centre. However, a family may choose to refuse the offer of a transfer to another centre because either (a) it prefers the current arrangement or (b) it wants to await a better offer. Where a family refuses an offer of alternative accommodation in such circumstances, RIA keeps the family details under review and further offers are made as deemed suitable.

Generally, the safety of all residents – especially children – is at the forefront of RIA’s objectives. RIA affords the highest priority to the safeguarding and protection of children. RIA is, and will always be, compliant with all legislative requirements in this area. RIA has a fully staffed child and family service unit, the head of which is seconded from the HSE and whose role is to manage, deliver, coordinate, monitor and plan all matters relating to child and family services for all residents in the direct provision system. The unit also acts as a conduit between RIA and Child and Family Agency (Tusla), the latter having statutory functions in this area.

RIA's Child Protection and Welfare Policy is based on the the Department of Children and Youth Affairs' “Children First- National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children”. This guidance document was developed to assist people in identifying and reporting child abuse and welfare concerns. The protection and welfare policy emphasises that the needs of children and families must be central to child care and child protection and welfare. RIA's policy has been reviewed and updated and now contains a practice document to make it more user friendly. That draft document is now with Tusla for final feedback and it is anticipated that it will be published by the end of August, 2014 on RIA’s website