We have a very serious problem concerning homeless children and families in our country. Where children are homeless as part of a family experiencing homelessness, my Department works closely with Tusla to provide supports to help them with the challenges they face. It is worth remembering 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, it will provide family supports to assist that family and child.
We now provide free childcare for the children of families experiencing homelessness, including a daily meal for each child. That is one thing my Department has done. Some 310 children have been registered under this scheme in the current programme year. Tusla also supports homeless families experiencing problems with school attendance through the school completion programme. Children whose families are homeless are prioritised for services such as homework clubs and breakfast clubs.
Tusla and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, DRHE, have agreed a joint protocol to facilitate an interagency response to the many challenges posed by homelessness. As part of the protocol, Tusla provides support to the DHRE’s "one-stop shop" assessment centres. Here, Tusla staff deal with matters of child protection and welfare, educational welfare and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services. Tusla’s homelessness liaison officer also supports these centres. Family resource centres provide facilities where homeless children and families can avail of a safe, warm environment for homework, relaxation and nutritious food. Tusla is engaging with the centres to offer further enhanced services across the greater Dublin area in 2019.
A minority of young people leaving care can have particularly complex needs. Following a suggestion from Fr. Peter McVerry I have succeeded in having them included for the first time as a separate category for funding under the capital assistance scheme.
That provides targeted assistance to the most vulnerable care leavers by enabling approved housing bodies to acquire residential units to accommodate them. I may come back to that.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
It has been a complex and arduous process to initiate. My Department and Tusla have developed principles and criteria relating to funding proposals under CAS. Where accommodation is provided under CAS, Tusla will provide and where necessary advocate for additional independent living supports, in particular for the most vulnerable care leavers, in accordance with the individual’s pre-agreed aftercare plan.
I am pleased to be able to confirm that as of 31 December 2018 ten care leavers were in occupancy of secure accommodation under the scheme while an additional 40 units, consisting of a mix of one and two bed units across the State, have been purchased or are sale agreed. These should be available for other young people leaving care in the near future. The security provided by a tenancy in CAS accommodation, combined with the aftercare supports identified by Tusla as part of the aftercare planning process, can help ensure that these young people have a safe base from which to begin their transition to independent adult life.
Our response to homelessness overall is a test of our compassion as a society. We need to eliminate child and family homelessness. While we work towards this we must provide the supports necessary to help them live in a way that goes some way to addressing the challenges of the situation.