Number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers in State care unknown

ESRI report finds improvements in care but key information gaps over vulnerable children

The number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum referred to the Child and Family Agency was 120 last year. This compares to 339 in 2008 and 863 in 2002. Photograph: Getty Images

The number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum referred to the Child and Family Agency was 120 last year. This compares to 339 in 2008 and 863 in 2002. Photograph: Getty Images

 

CARL O’BRIEN

State authorities have been unable to tell researchers how many child asylum seekers who are separated from their parents are in the care of the State.

It is one of a number of “concerning” information gaps relating to unaccompanied minors highlighted in a report published on Monday by the ESRI.

Overall, the report points to significant improvements in the State’s care of young asylum seekers, such as an end to the much-criticised use of hostels to house vulnerable young people. But the report says national statistics on unaccompanied minors referred to or placed in care were not available and very little was known about unaccompanied minors located outside the greater Dublin area.

‘Good practices’

Emma Quinn

But she added: “In the context of the increasing numbers of asylum applicants in Ireland and across the EU, it is timely to ensure that service provision to this particularly vulnerable group is robust and that national oversight exists.”

In general, the numbers referred to authorities have fallen significantly over recent years. The report says the number of unaccompanied minors referred to the Child and Family Agency was 120 last year. This compares to 339 in 2008 and 863 in 2002.

Dramatic decrease

The model of care provided for this vulnerable group has moved from one of emergency hostel-based care to a model of foster care, supported lodgings and residential placements.

But the report also points to a number of areas that require attention. It found there was no targeted national strategy for unaccompanied minors. In addition, there was limited national oversight of care provision and there were significant variations in approaches to care. For example, different sections of the Child Care Act 1991 were used to take unaccompanied minors into State care. The decision on which section to apply is taken locally and may impact on the minor’s legal guardianship, the report found.

Social workers also reported practical difficulties arising from the lack of a clear immigration status for many unaccompanied minors.