While the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has ultimate responsibility for managing homelessness, as the Deputy is aware, I am committed to helping children and families as part of a whole-of-Government response to homelessness.
The Child Care Act 1991 (as amended), requires Tusla to take reasonable steps to make available accommodation to children who are homeless and have no accommodation that they can reasonably occupy. These children may be taken into the care of Tusla or, in the case of children aged 16 or 17, they may be provided with accommodation under section 5 of the Act.
Where children are homeless as part of a family experiencing homelessness, my Department is working closely with Tusla to provide supports to mitigate the challenges faced by these parents and children. These 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.
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 and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) have agreed a joint protocol to facilitate an inter-agency response to the many challenges posed by homelessness. The main aim of the joint protocol is to work in partnership to address the family support needs of homeless families and to promote inter-agency cooperation.
As part of the protocol, Tusla provides support to the DHRE’s ‘one-stop-shop’ assessment centres. Here the role of Tusla staff is to participate as required with regard to issues involving child protection and welfare, educational welfare and Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) services.
Referrals received from Case Workers located in Assessment Centres are responded to as appropriate. The Tusla Homelessness Liaison Officer provides broad-based supports to the centres.
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.