Progress on family homelessness during pandemic must not slip, says charity

Issue now ‘one of the direst challenges’ facing State, Children’s Rights Alliance chief warns

Family homelessness is “one of the direst challenges” facing the State and the progress achieved on the issue during the Covid-19 pandemic should not be allowed to slip, the Children’s Rights Alliance has said.

In its annual report card, published on Monday, the alliance highlights concerns around access to alternative education, online safety and mental health issues among children.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the alliance, said the Government received an E grade for homelessness, down from a C grade last year, as the number of children in emergency accommodation has "started to creep back up again".

“The Government’s emergency response to the pandemic in 2020 had a strong focus on preventative measures and resulted in fewer families in emergency accommodation,” she said.

“There is a strong appetite now after the challenges of Covid-19 to change things for the better; we should be building on what worked well rather than simply returning to the way things were before. We can’t allow progress to reverse.”

She added: “Despite positive progress in the area of family homelessness in 2020, particularly at the onset of the emergency response to the pandemic, by December 2021 this had been eroded and is now one of the direst challenges facing our country today.”

In December, there were 1,077 families experiencing homelessness and 2,451 children experiencing homelessness. At that stage, almost one in four children living in emergency accommodation in Dublin had been there for more than two years.

Funding

The report found “some progress” had been made in the area of education, which received a B minus grade. It welcomed the publication of guidelines on reduced timetables, a practice in which a school limits the amount of time a child spends in school due to behavioural or other other reasons.

The alliance also welcomed increased funding for special education needs, though acknowledged that “much more needs to be done” to ensure children are supported to access their right to education, with a review of the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act being “key to this”.

“The Government must take action to support children for whom mainstream education fails and to help them to reach their full potential,” Ms Ward added.

The Government also received an E grade in mental health, which Mark Smyth, past president of the Psychological Society of Ireland, has described as "inexcusable".

“Children and young people have a right to receive age-appropriate, safe healthcare and the inexcusable fact that 25 young people were placed in adult wards in 2021 continues to be unacceptable,” he said.

“The pressures on [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] CAMHS have been abundantly clear for many years and we are all very conscious of the concerning issues that have recently come to light in South Kerry CAMHS.”

However, the report states the Government made good progress in the area of children living in direct provision, for which it received a B minus grade; pathways for undocumented children (B grade); and harassment, harmful communications and related offences (A grade).