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Children and Family Services Provision

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 1 May 2018

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Questions (26)

Anne Rabbitte


26. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on whether children seeking asylum here are treated equally and fairly by welfare and protection services, particularly with regard to the allocation of social workers and aftercare provision; and if she is satisfied with existing arrangements. [19114/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

I refer to the 1,200 children who are currently living in direct provision, some of whom are in my constituency in the Eyre Powell in Newbridge. Deputy Rabbitte met a group from Mosney at the recent Foróige awards and was most impressed with them. Does the Minister believe that children seeking asylum in Ireland are treated equally and fairly by Ireland's child welfare and protection services, particularly in the allocation of social workers and aftercare provision, and is she satisfied with existing arrangements?

It is vital that we treat all children who are received into State care equally. There should be no differentiation in standards of care, priorities for care, other standards or protocols.

I am satisfied that the care provided to separated children seeking asylum is of a high standard, and that they receive an equal standard of care. Children seeking asylum who are in the custody of their parents remain in their care. Families living in direct provision centres have access to all Tusla services and are supported by a senior Tusla social worker, who works closely with the Reception and Integration Agency and staff in direct provision centres.

Children who present as unaccompanied minors may reunite with family members on arrival, or are taken into the care of Tusla. All separated children in care have a social worker with access to translation services where necessary. They live in residential or foster care, have educational assessments on arrival, and supports. Many of them, on reaching 18, stay in Tusla-provided accommodation to assist them in remaining in education. Tusla provides dedicated aftercare supports to this group of young adults.

Ireland's treatment of separated children seeking asylum is well-regarded internationally. Tusla has had a dedicated separated children seeking asylum team for many years now and it has gained the knowledge, skills and experience to provide a good quality service to separated children.

We have a good record in assisting unaccompanied children who arrive in Ireland. We played our part in helping children from the unofficial camp at Calais, and Tusla has offered to do more in regard to Italy and Greece.

We remain in contact with the Irish refugee protection programme, and we will continue to support vulnerable children under this programme.

The Minister says there should be no differentiation between the children who come to our shores under the direct provision model and our own children. I could not agree with her more but unfortunately it would seem there is a differentiation. The Minister also said that Ireland is regarded very highly for the way it supports these children yet in September 2006, in its review of Ireland's implementation of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the relevant UN committee specifically raised with the Irish delegation the question of discriminatory treatment for children of asylum seekers. The former Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, frequently drew attention to the particular difficulties faced by the children of asylum seekers in Ireland. In 2008 she observed that children who seek protection in the State, especially separated children seeking asylum and child victims of trafficking, are among the most vulnerable in our society and face multiple barriers to the realisation of their rights. Until recently the Ombudsman for Children excluded children living in direct provision from making complaints. It is welcome that it has changed recently but many residents still fear making a complaint because of their very precarious status.

With regard to the Deputy's question, the children who are in direct provision with their families are in the care of their families. Even though they are in the care of their families, there are a number of services available to them through Tusla. We have a dedicated Tusla person who regularly works with all direct provision centres throughout the country to ensure they have access to services as do children who are in the care of their families. The Deputy's question was about those children being treated equally and fairly compared with children who are separated and who are not in the care of their families. It is very important to Tusla. A number of practices have been developed with my support to ensure they have as good a service as they require given they are separated from their families and that they receive an equal standard of care in that regard.

Many social workers have raised concerns about the lack of inter-agency co-operation between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. This has a negative impact on their ability to serve children seeking asylum. It is in direct contravention to the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2001, which asks all Government Departments and agencies to collaborate in the protection of children. For example, Tusla social care workers highlighted that many children seeking asylum are deported with very little warning. There is no engagement with the social care worker. It is wrong and very worrying. The open nature of direct provision means sometimes children can be exposed to unsuitable persons and behaviours. We all accept that direct provision can be an inherently stressful experience causing additional mental health and educational issues. The opportunity for children to go on to further education is hugely important. Unaccompanied minors who are placed in foster care are discharged from State care at 18 years old and, essentially, must enter direct provision or be entirely cut off from State support. While the Department maintains that these minors have the same right to an aftercare plan as any other child in foster care, that is far from the reality. Will the Minister consider those issues? Are there any steps she will take to alleviate those challenges?

Tusla provides dedicated aftercare supports to the group of young adults who reach 18, after they are 18. It uses its resources to do that. On the question on children in direct provision who are in the care of their families, some of the questions relate to direct provision, which is under the remit of another Ministry. Perhaps some of the Deputy's questions are appropriate in that regard. In the context of my responsibilities, I work very closely with the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure our officials, including the Tusla officials in my Department, come together with the gardaí in a number of working groups, including the strategic liaison committee and other working groups, to look at ways of ensuring the protocols and the ways of working together to support children in care are of the highest possible standard. We also acknowledge that reforms are needed. They have identified actions and they are being implemented on a number of levels. They are being implemented at a higher level with the Garda and my officials in Tusla in addition to the work that is going on on the ground. I am happy to say I have visited a number of direct provision centres around the country with an eye on ensuring the children who are there in the care of their families have access to the Tusla services I have indicated.