More than 100 reports of suspected abuse or neglect of children in homeless accommodation were received by Tusla in the first eight months of the year, new figures show.
Agencies working in the sector, however, believe these figures under-represent the actual number of children at risk of harm in homelessness services.
Figures from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, show 119 child protection notices (CPNs) were made to it by managers of emergency accommodation about child sex, physical or emotional abuse, or neglect in the eight months to the end of August.
Of these 52 concerned emotional abuse, 28 were about neglect, 26 concerned physical abuse and 13 centred on concerns about sexual abuse.
From December 2017 to last December a total of 113 CPNs were made from managers of family homeless accommodation. Mangers of family emergency accommodation are designated ‘mandated reporters’ and legally obliged to report “any knowledge, belief, or reasonable suspicion that a child has been harmed, is being harmed, or is at risk of being harmed”.
A spokeswoman for Tusla confirmed that the figures were unlikely to capture all reports of suspected child abuse in accommodation for homeless people.
“There may be other referrals. For example a resident would report a concern as a member of the public (not categorised as a mandated reporter) so those reports would be accounted for in the overall number of referrals and would be categorised as sexual, physical, emotional or neglect,” she said.
“Regardless of whether the referral comes from a mandated reporter or a member of the public they will be managed in the same way. Once a referral is received it is screened and the risk is assessed, in line with Children First protocols. Cases are then prioritised for allocation to a social worker based on that risk.”
Though all family homeless-accommodation managers are provided with training in recognising abuse and making CPN reports, concerns have been raised by NGOs in the sector about how consistently these skills are applied.
A report from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland published on Wednesday found almost 40 per cent of homeless children were experiencing “clinically significant” mental health and behavioural difficulties.
The study, the Impact of Homelessness and Inadequate Housing on Children’s Health, said “serious harm” was being done to these children’s health as they face “unacceptable health risks and harm”. It highlighted the strain on parents, who were at heightened risk of stress, mental health difficulties and relationship difficulties with other adults and their own children. It calls for key workers to be assigned to support every homeless family.