Child protection failings in direct provision criticised

Ombudsman says ‘no evidence’ all centres are complying with Children First legislation

The Ombudsman for Children has accused the State of failing to put in place proper safeguards to keep children living in direct provision safe from harm or abuse.

A report from the ombudsman’s office, published on Tuesday said an investigation had found a number of child protection shortcomings in direct provision.

In one centre, which mostly housed Syrian asylum-seekers, the ombudsman found some staff members had not been Garda vetted or received child protection training, despite assurances to the contrary. The same centre failed to report a serious child protection case to State agencies, as required, the ombudsman’s report said.

Parents had also incorrectly been told that their children might be removed from them by the State if they were not properly supervised.

The lack of interpreter services in the facility had effectively “gagged” parents from making complaints, with the ombudsman’s office stating it was concerned over a possible “culture of fear within the centre”.

On foot of concerning practices in the centre, the ombudsman began an inquiry into child protection standards across the whole direct provision system.

Unsuitable accommodation

The investigation found “no evidence” that all direct provision centres were complying with Children First, key child protection legislation.

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said while the Government had committed to phasing out direct provision centres by the end of 2024, "immediate improvements" were needed in the meantime. "There are still children and families living in unsuitable accommodation and that will not change for at least three years," he said.

The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS), which oversees the direct provision system, had "failed to put in place the necessary safeguards" to protect children, the report found.

It also sharply criticised the lack of oversight around child protection standards, as well as poor cooperation with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

There were 510 referrals about children in direct provision made to Tusla between April 2017 and June 2020. However, the report said Tusla had “no effective mechanism” for analysing data about children in direct provision to identify risks or concerning trends.