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African families are 20 times more likely to end up in the child care courts

Mental health is flagged as one of the possible contributory factors.

THIS WEEK TWO protests about the living conditions at two direct provision centres in Cork ended.

The residents stood outside with posters saying:

Save us from depression. Give us back our lives.

Demonstrations are gaining momentum with rallies at centres in Limerick, Portlaoise and Dublin taking place, with political voices now appearing to be willing to move on the issue after 14 years of relative unchange.

Child welfare 

The living conditions that people are forced to live in are having a knock on effect, with one stark impact being seen in the family court in relation to child welfare.

The interim report on the Child Law Reporting Project finds that there is a relatively high proportion of African families involved in child care proceedings – 11.4% of all respondents, all in Dublin.

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The report finds that this is “totally disproportionate to their presence in the population as a whole” stating that in the last Census in 2011, there were 17,642 Nigerians and 4,872 South Africans living in Ireland. Eight other African countries had less than 1,000 and more than 200 of their nationals living here.

Assuming an average of 500 per country, this would account for approximately another 4,000 people, giving a total figure for Africans in Ireland in the region of 22,524.This is approximately half of one per cent of the population.Thus, according to this data, African families are 20 times more likely to find themselves in the child care courts than other members of Irish society.

The largest single reason cited for African children becoming the subject of care
proceedings was “abuse”.

Mental health 

While the report says that there are “no easy explanations” for the figures, when the reasons for a care order being sought was cross-referenced with ethnic background, abuse, parental disability (which was generally to be mental illness or intellectual disability) and parental absence emerged as the main reasons for African children coming into care.

The mental health supports for those in direct provision is something that has been raised by groups such as Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre.

Jennifer Dewan from Nasc said that while no blanket statement can be made to say that mental health issues of people in direct provision are solely the cause for the figures, she said that the living conditions do exasperate problems for families.

“Many people in direct provision already have serious problems to work through, with many having seen atrocious atrocities in their home countries and been tortured themselves. Add children into the mix and live in a centre for such a long period of time  it is no surprise the mental health issues are arising,” said Dewan, a view that was also raised in the FLAC Report on Direct Provision, One Size Doesn’t Fit All in March 2010.

Living conditions

She said that there are also people that arrive in Ireland, having no prerequisite mental health condition, but having lived in a direct provision centre, been forced to live on little to nothing and not being able to work has a huge impact on a person’s well being.

The Child Law Reporting Project said that mental illness featured significantly in the African cases, and in a number of these cases the mother (often parenting alone) was referred from a direct provision centre to psychiatric services, and her children were then taken into care.

The report states:

If it proves to be the case that a significant number of African mothers are diagnosed with mental illness following asylum applications and lengthy periods in direct provision, with a likely impact on their mental health, and if this is leading to an increased number of children ending up in the care system, it is a problem that needs to be addressed from a children’s rights perspective. This raises policy issues outside the scope of the courts or the HSE.

Dewan said that even with families living sometimes in one room, there is another emerging problem. The issue of children who have lived in direct provision centres, been raised in them, but who have gone to school and made friends.

“These children want to be just like their friends, they go to school, they do their homework, but they live in a different world. Once they have completed their education, gotten their exams that is it, they revert to being in the same position as their parents – unable to carry on their studies at college and not able to work,” said Dewan.

She said this has a huge impact on the mental health of young people.

“I have seen cases where the student gets great results, yet there is nothing they can do about their situation. They have their whole life ahead of them yet they are stuck in limbo,” she said.

“One case I saw, a young girl did amazingly well in her Leaving Certificate, yet she could go no further. Her parents then had a huge job trying to motivate the younger daughter, who saw her sister, sitting at home doing nothing. She thought there was no point in going to school. Thankfully her parents did change her mind and she also did very well in her exams, but now she is in the same situation as her sister,” explained Dewann, who said these children are going to start presenting with mental health issues down the line if nothing is done quickly.

She said there have been cases identified where there are families that are at risk and said that these families should immediately be given other housing accommodation other than direct provision.

“It is just not conducive to family life and the number of children being taken into care is really indicative of that,” she said.

Read: Toddler left alone in Direct Provision centre removed from mother, custody awarded to father>

Read: ‘The frustration has been building up over years’>

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