Three-fifths of children in homeless shelter under eight

More than 1,000 under-eights will spend Christmas in emergency accommodation

Three out of every five children in homeless accommodation this Christmas in Ireland are under the age of eight, figures to be published next month indicate.

This equates to more than 1,000 very young children across the State – more than 900 of whom are in Dublin – in emergency accommodation.

Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland, described the figures as "deeply shocking".

As the lead statutory agency working with homeless families in Dublin, Focus Ireland is undertaking an analysis of the age profile of the children in emergency accommodation, and these figures are preliminary. The complete figures will be published in January.

To date, the charity has collated the ages of 636 homeless children – 39 per cent of the total nationally. Analysis finds 63 per cent of the 636 are under the age of eight and a further 20 per cent between the ages of nine and 12.

Very young profile

“This percentage would indicate that 1,037 of the 1,638 children who are homeless, with their families, in Ireland are under the age of eight years old,” said Mr Allen.

“We held a major international conference on family homelessness in Dublin earlier this year, and from this we expected to find a very young profile for the children in homeless families, but the huge number of very young children is deeply shocking,” he said.

The most recent figures show, in November, there were 1,466 children in 705 families in emergency accommodation in Dublin – a 98 per cent increase since November 2014, when there were 741 homeless children.

Of the 705 families, 205 including 417 children are in supported homeless accommodation, while 500 families with 1,049 children are in hotels.

The most recent national figures, for October, show there were 1,638 children in 774 families in homeless accommodation.

Long-term impact

Concern about the long-term physical, emotional, educational and nutritional impact on children of being homeless – particularly those living in hotels and B&Bs – has been expressed by numerous agencies. These include the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Ombudsman for Children, Barnardos and the Children’s Rights Alliance.

The issue will also be raised next month by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child when Ireland appears before it to be examined on protection of children's rights. Minister for Children James Reilly will represent the Government before the Committee in Geneva on January 14th.

“The international evidence shows the long-term damage which can be done to children who experience the insecurity and trauma of homelessness at this young age,” said Mr Allen.

“It is little over year ago that we put the rights of children in our constitution, but when you think of these 1,000 very young children living in emergency accommodation at Christmas it reminds you of how much more we have to do to make that a reality.”

The final figures will be published in January.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times