While the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has ultimate responsibility for managing homelessness, as the Deputy will be aware, I am committed to helping children and families as part of a whole-of-Government response to the problem of homelessness.
My Department is not currently undertaking any studies on the impact of homelessness. However there can be little doubt that homelessness is an extremely distressing experience, and that any medium to long-term period living in a hotel or other emergency accommodation seriously impacts on normal family life and is particularly detrimental to children.
The Deputy will be familiar with many of the initiatives undertaken by my Department and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to support children and families experiencing homelessness. They include the introduction of free childcare for the children of families experiencing homelessness. As part of the scheme a daily meal is provided for each child, the cost of which is included in the subvention rate. The scheme is also designed to help those transitioning from homelessness to permanent accommodation.
Tusla works together with other statutory and voluntary agencies to provide services and supports to children, young people and families experiencing homelessness. Actions taken by Tusla include the provision of funding for child support workers and the appointment of a Homelessness Liaison Officer.
Family Resource Centres, part funded by Tusla, are working with people who are experiencing homelessness and many have developed local responses to the needs of families in emergency accommodation. These include, by way of example, family fun days, homework support, after school programmes, play therapy and transport services.
In recognition of the difficulties associated with homelessness and school attendance, Tusla’s Educational Welfare Service offers a number of supports to children (and families) experiencing homelessness.
Tusla’s joint protocol with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) covers child welfare and protection matters for children in emergency accommodation. It is fully operational in the DRHE areas and it is intended to replicate this protocol across the State. A Joint Working Protocol has been signed between Tusla and Galway City Council.
It is important to note that Tusla only intervenes in family life in exceptional circumstances. Children who are with their families in emergency accommodation remain in the care of their parents or guardians. Where Tusla has concerns regarding the welfare and development of any child they will provide family supports to assist that family and child.
Ultimately, my concern is that we minimise and then eliminate the problem of homelessness. In the meantime, I will continue to support measures to help those affected, to the greatest degree possible within my area of responsibility.