Increase in welfare reports over homeless children

Tusla received more than 120 child protection reports in two months, figures show

Homelessness figures published last week showed 9,698 people, including 3,829 children, were in emergency accommodation in September.

Homelessness figures published last week showed 9,698 people, including 3,829 children, were in emergency accommodation in September.

 

More than 120 child protection and welfare reports were made to the State’s child and family agency Tusla in two months, over homeless families left with no accommodation at night, new figures show.

In April, homeless charity Focus Ireland made 66 child protection and welfare reports to Tusla, relating to children in 46 families who could not be found emergency beds, and were advised to present to Garda stations for shelter.

In nine cases families told the charity the following day they had slept rough, mainly in cars, and six families confirmed they had to sleep in Garda stations.

In May the charity’s evening service could not find emergency accommodation for 47 families, and 57 reports were made to Tusla over welfare concerns for children. Eight of the families later confirmed they slept in cars, and at least eight sheltered in Garda stations.

The figures were outlined in correspondence between Focus Ireland and the Department of Housing, released under the Freedom of Information act.

Mike Allen, head of advocacy at the charity, said social workers had reported difficulties responding to the child welfare referrals. Tusla’s system requires an address to be provided with child protection and welfare reports.

In cases where homeless families are not in emergency accommodation, the charity can only provide a mobile phone contact for the family, he said. Tusla were “still grappling” with how to respond to homeless families in those circumstances, he said.

‘Immediate harm’

A spokeswoman for Tusla said in reports where no address is provided for homeless families, the agency will assess if there is a “risk of immediate harm to the child” and respond in child protection cases.

“Where there are child welfare issues it is prioritised depending on the case load of the social work team,” the spokeswoman added.

The agency said its protocol is that the last known address of a homeless family should be used in referrals. However, Mr Allen said this can cause problems if a previous address is in a different care area than where the family were currently located.

In late May, Mr Allen wrote to Minister of State for housing Damien English to outline that families presenting to Garda stations was not a “rare event”, as he had suggested to the Dáil at the time.

“No one in authority should be in any doubt that on a nightly basis there is currently a significant risk that families with children will not be offered shelter,” Mr Allen said. The situation raised “obvious risks” for the safety of children, he said.

Grave concern

In a briefing for the department from Focus Ireland in June, released to The Irish Times, the charity warned the problem had reached a “very significant level”.

The briefing said in recent years “a number of scandals involving the mistreatment of children have come to light. On each occasion, there has been a claim that ‘we did not know this was going on’”. It said the charity’s board had expressed “grave concern” over the situation facing families forced to sleep rough or in Garda stations.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has taken over responsibility for running the family evening placement service from Focus in recent weeks. The severity of the problem has subsided recently, due to extra emergency accommodation beds, Mr Allen said.

Homelessness figures published last week showed 9,698 people, including 3,829 children, were in emergency accommodation in September.