Social services alerted over child welfare in asylum centres
State body says it takes all child protection concerns ‘very seriously’
Social services were alerted to 120 reports of child protection or welfare concerns during 2012 relating to children in direct provision settings
Social services have been alerted to dozens of child welfare concerns in State-funded asylum accommodation centres, such as young people displaying signs of inappropriate sexualised behaviour.
Latest official figures show there are about 1,600 children living in the direct provision system for asylum seekers in the State.
In all, authorities were alerted to 120 reports of child protection or welfare concerns during 2012 relating to children in these settings.
Most cases of concern related to unsupervised children (47), children with disruptive or sexualised behaviour (18) and parents being hospitalised or experiencing mental health problems (17).
Critics of the direct provision system, such as the Irish Refugee Council, say direct provision is an unnatural family environment which is harmful to children and hinders their development.
Geoffrey Shannon, the Government’s special rapporteur on children, has also highlighted “real risks” relating to children in such settings, such as single-parent families who are required to share rooms with strangers.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), the State body responsible for direct provision, says it takes the issue of child protection very seriously and all reports are investigated.
It has moved to introduce Garda vetting of staff working in these centres over recent years and has co-ordinated training of centre managers in child protection.
All direct provision centres are also required to implement child protection policies as part of contracts they sign with the agency.
But inspection reports obtained by The Irish Times show lapses across some centres in ensuring all staff managers were trained in Children First, the State’s policy on handling child protection concerns.
In addition, inspectors found cases of young children who had been left to mind infants or unsupervised children being left to play in areas that could be accessed by strangers.
RIA says it has a specific child and family services unit whose role is to manage, deliver, co-ordinate, monitor all matters relating to child and family services for all asylum seekers residing in the direct provision system.
It forwards any concerns over the welfare, safety or wellbeing of a children to the HSE’s child protection services.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil recently that she has been engaging with the HSE to ensure “children currently residing in direct provision are afforded the same levels of welfare and protection that their counterparts in the wider community are afforded”.
However, a report last year by the refugee council documented cases of what it described as “State-sanctioned child poverty and exclusion”, including cases of poor nutrition and overcrowding.
The council’s report expressed concern that children were forced to share toilets with adults, and may also witness violent and sexual behaviour.
Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness has also warned that a future government may have to issue a formal apology for the manner in which children, in particular, are being treated.
A system where families have to live in one room; are not able to cook for themselves and adults are not allowed to work was, she said, highly damaging to children.
Ms McGuinness has urged Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to consider reforming the system to ensure the welfare of adults and children is better protected.
Mr Shatter has said that while the system is not ideal, he has no plans to change it on the basis that it provides an economical way of providing a roof over the head of every asylum seeker.