Homeless children in hospital emergency department up 29%

Temple Street head medical social worker calls spike in presentations ‘shameful’

Temple Street Children’s University Hospital. Photograph: Eric Luke

Temple Street Children’s University Hospital. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

More than 800 children treated at the emergency department at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital in Dublin last year were homeless, and more than a quarter of those were younger than a year old, figures published by the hospital show.

The major national paediatric hospital, in the north inner city, saw 842 children up to the age of 16 who were discharged with “no fixed address” last year, compared with 651 in 2017 – an increase of 29 per cent.

Lead emergency medical consultant Dr IK Okafor said the department treated 260 homeless children in the period from last October to December alone.

“Their presentations are varied and complex but in the majority they stem from the fact that these children are living in completely unsuitable, cramped and temporary accommodation,” he said.

The majority of the 842 children (85 per cent) presented with medical complaints including abdominal pain, high temperatures, chest infections, asthma, seizures and vomiting. Some 23 per cent presented with trauma, including hand and arm injuries, head lacerations, burns and self-harm.

The emergency department team last year also looked after homeless children with cystic fibrosis, neurological disorders, severe autism and significant developmental delays.

It is understood that many are housed in temporary accommodation in the hospital’s immediate catchment area.

‘Nowhere to go’

Dr Okafor noted most recent national data from November showing 3,811 children in the State were deemed homeless, including 2,816 in the Dublin region. “We are seeing an ever-increasing number of those children every month in our [emergency department],” he said.

“We had a case in 2018 where a child who required surgery attended the Temple Street [emergency department] with their siblings, parents and extended family. This family had nowhere else to go until accommodation was found at 11pm,” he added. “We have also looked after a young person who was assaulted on his way to emergency homeless accommodation. In addition some of our homeless families who are given accommodation outside of Dublin are finding it difficult to afford to attend their children’s outpatient department appointments.”

Head medical social worker at the hospital, Anne Marie Jones, said the situation was “shameful”.

“When these children leave our [emergency department], they stay in temporary accommodation with cramped conditions and no appropriate cooking, washing or play facilities. This results in accidents or traumas that wouldn’t normally happen if these families were housed in a family home.”

Ms Jones noted the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights "encourages us to take a wider interpretation of housing which should not be seen merely as a roof over a child's head".

"Children have the right to live in a home with security, peace and dignity. Children are not inactive onlookers but are deeply and often irrevocably affected by the impact of being homeless," she said.

"We need to show unrivalled support for these children and acknowledge that having a place that they can call home is one of the most fundamental of human rights."

The hospital cited research that homelessness influences "every facet of a child's live from conception to young adulthood and that the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural development of children".

First Dáil pledges

At the ceremony in the Mansion House yesterday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the Dáil in 1919, political leaders in all parties acknowledged the failure of the State to fulfil the First Dáil’s pledges to protect children from poverty.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar quoted the Democratic Programme adopted by the meeting of the Dáil, which “promised that ‘the first duty of the Government of the Republic’ would be to ensure ‘that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training’ reminds us of our responsibilities to children.

“Although today the rate of child poverty in Ireland is only a fraction of what it was 100 years ago, and is falling, we must do better,” he said.