I welcome the publication of the tenth edition of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card evaluating the Government's progress on actions for children. The 2018 report acknowledges progress made and the Government’s efforts to improve the lives of children in Ireland. The report rightly highlights the continuing impact of the homelessness crisis on the lives of children. I absolutely acknowledge 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.
While the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has the ultimate responsibility for managing homelessness, my Department is working closely with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to provide ongoing supports for families in emergency accommodation in order to mitigate the challenges faced by parents and children in this situation.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, works together with other statutory and voluntary agencies to provide services and supports to children, young people and families experiencing homelessness. In my own Department, I have introduced free childcare for the children of families experiencing homelessness. I am happy to say that the families of an additional 196 children are currently availing of childcare under this scheme, while some families were already eligible under existing schemes. As part of the scheme a daily meal is provided for each child.
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 families who are experiencing homelessness and many have developed local responses to the needs of children and 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.
Finally, the DRHE is coordinating the development of a comprehensive National Quality Standards Framework for homeless services on behalf of all housing authorities. Consultation with service users and key stakeholders, including Tusla, has been undertaken and the draft standards have been piloted in selected services. These standards, including a child safety element which will provide homeless services with a framework for continuous quality improvement, will be implemented nationally.
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.