THERE ARE ALMOST 6,500 children in State care right now. Many of them do not have a social worker assigned to them, some are on long waiting lists for services and others live in poor accommodation or are homeless.
This week, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, who co-founded Focus Ireland, warned that the placement of homeless children in bed and breakfasts and the growing waiting lists for our of hours supports have opened them up to exploitation.
“As we gather this evening it is a harsh reality that a child found in urgent care tonight, whether as the result of living on the streets, a family row or simply falling out of the system, will not get the support of an out of hours social worker – not only does no such service exist but it is not a priority for government,” she said on Tuesday.
Figures from 2013 found 569 children in the care of the HSE did not have a social worker. One third of the people living in asylum accommodation centres are children and some were born and have spent their entire lives living in these centres or hostels.
In Dublin alone, one family a day is becoming homeless and across the country around 200 families bed down in hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation.
Kennedy said these kinds of figures raise questions about whether we have learned anything form the mistakes of the past, noting that “children regarded as troublesome, illegitimate or from another background being not only institutionalised but being placed in danger of abuse and exploitation”.
Leaving State care
She also noted that children who have been in State care are being “sent out into the world without any supports or services upon reaching the age of 18″.
From the moment they reach what the State deems adulthood, they are left to fend for themselves.
Each year, around 450 children leave the care of the State on turning 18. Earlier this week, Focus Ireland pointed to a growing homelessness crisis among young adults who were previously in State care.
Dónal O’Malley, chair of the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) told TheJournal.ie that the State, “which takes on the legal role of parent to children in state care, expects some of its most vulnerable young adults, from their 18th birthday, to manage with the scarcest of resources, many without the support of a social worker, aftercare worker or a resourced aftercare plan”.
He said supported and semi-independent accommodation services continue to close, pushing already vulnerable young people into homelessness.
“Insecure, unsafe and unpredictable living exacerbates underlying mental health, learning difficulties and other needs,” he explained.
Last year, a report on the deaths of children in care gave examples of young adults with mental health or drug issues, known to the HSE, who had died. One had been in care from a young age after alcohol misuse by his parents and domestic abuse in his home. After reaching the age of 18, his own drug problem escalated resulting in his death.
Another, who came to the attention to the HSE after an allegation he was sexually abused took his own life after leaving State care, though he had been in contact with aftercare services.
In the area of social work, additional services can not be provided with existing staffing levels, according to O’Malley. He also called for a system that would allow rent caps to be relaxed for care leavers and deposits fast-tracked.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charlie Flanagan said recently that a decision has been made to strengthen legislation regarding aftercare. However he said there was no funding available from his department to assist a not for profit organisations who are currently filling in the gaps by delivering services to children who have left State care.