Children seeking asylum moved from foster care to direct provision at 18 – report

Unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Ireland face ‘complete lack of support’

Young people stated that they felt deep anxiety and experienced ‘the darkest time of their life’ while they were waiting to hear when and where they would be relocated. Photograph: iStock

Young people stated that they felt deep anxiety and experienced ‘the darkest time of their life’ while they were waiting to hear when and where they would be relocated. Photograph: iStock

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Unaccompanied children who come to Ireland to seek asylum are being removed from their foster families and placed in direct provision when they turn 18, a new report has said.

These unaccompanied minors often face a “complete lack of support” as soon as they reach adulthood, according to this report.

The research, which was conducted by Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees, analysed what happens when unaccompanied minors living in five European countries turn 18.

In 2019, there were 4,781 applicants for international protection in Ireland; 50 were unaccompanied minors.

In July 2020, there were 59 separated children in the care of Tusla.

“Before the age of 18, unaccompanied minors with positive asylum applications and those whose claims have not been finalised are treated the same,” the report reads. “When they ‘age out’ of the system, the differences become apparent.”

When a separated child arrives in Ireland, they are first referred to Tusla’s separated children’s department.

They are then placed in residential care and are subsequently moved to foster care or supported lodgings.

Social workers

The report noted that Ireland offers a strong support network by assigning social workers to separated children.

However, the report said questions remain about whether social workers are best placed to decide when and if the minor should apply for asylum, due to their lack of training on the asylum system.

In many instances, the child does not begin an application for asylum until they are nearing adulthood.

If they turn 18 without receiving a decision on their asylum application, they can be moved to direct provision.

“The relocation from foster care to direct provision can cause anxiety and stress for a young person,” the report said.

“Young people stated that they felt deep anxiety and experienced ‘the darkest time of their life’ while they were waiting to hear when and where they would be relocated.”

The report noted that sometimes, if the young person is in their final year of school and doing their Leaving Certificate, they aren’t moved until after their exams are completed.

Interviewed

As part of the report, a group of young people who went through the system were interviewed.

“I really enjoyed staying with my foster family, it made me feel like I was not so alone and that I had a second family here in Ireland,” said I, aged 20.

“It’s hard, because you are just learning how to live with your foster family, and then you have to leave,” said R, aged 24. “It was hard on them [my foster family], they cried the day I left.”

When asked what they would change about the process, all the focus group interviewees said they would stop 18-year-olds being moved from foster and residential care to direct provision.

In contrast, unaccompanied minors who have been granted refugee status are responsible for securing their own accommodation with their aftercare allowance. Some remain with their foster families.

Those who chose to move out reported difficulties with securing adequate accommodation and affordable rent.

In a focus group with professionals and guardians, another major issue identified was Ireland’s “restrictive” family reunification laws.

Civil society actors gave several examples of young people whose family reunification was rejected because they waited too long after they received refugee status, or they applied slightly after they turned 18.

Additionally, if an unaccompanied minor is granted family reunification in Ireland, there is no service to support this family with their relocation.