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Number of child safety failings in Direct Provision centres, ombudsman report finds

Staff at one centre were found to have not been vetted to work with children.

Image: Shutterstock/IZZ HAZEL

A NEW REPORT from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) has criticised a number of failings in relation to the protection of children living in Direct Provision.

An investigation arose after a parent living in a DP centre raised concerns about overcrowding, inconsistent heating to bedrooms, the nutritional content of food available, the lack of safe play areas for children, and access to mainstream services at one centre. 

After inspecting the centre, the OCO found that staff had “not undergone appropriate child protection vetting and training as claimed by the centre manager” and the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) was unaware of this.

It said there was a failure to report a serious child protection concern. Parents at the centre were “erroneously told” that their children could be removed by child protection services if they did not supervise them properly in the centre.

The OCO said in a statement that there was no interpretive service available for people living in the centre, which “effectively gagged” anyone who wished to make a complaint. 

It said a parent expressed fears of being identified as a complainant. 

After this, the OCO expanded its examination of centre management and the RIA to include all accommodation centres. 

Its report said the Direct Provision model “does not have the best interests of children, or the protection and promotion of the human rights of child refugees at its core”. 

The Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said he is “aware” this report is being published “against the backdrop of the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision”.

But he said there are “still children and families living in unsuitable accommodation and that will not change for at least three years”. 

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Dr Muldoon said the office found parents in Direct Provision were “nervous” about making complaints. 

He said the office “found an almost culture of fear within the centre” investigated by the parent who raised a number of complaints, sparking this wider investigation. 

He said the Department of Justice didn’t have a sufficient independent inspections for centres and there was no place for people living in centres to make complaints.

In its findings, the OCO said the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) has “failed” to put in place safeguards to ensure children in centres under the DP model are “safe from harm”. 

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The report also said that Tusla, the child and family agency, “did not recognise the inherent vulnerability” of minors in the international protection process. 

It recommended the immediate end to the use of hotels for emergency provision. 

The report said the current inspection regime focuses on food, food hygiene and physical appearances while not accounting that the space and supports meet “children’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development, or to ensure the centre’s contractors are accountable”. 

It also said the government has failed to implement recommendations that the government appoint an independent designated officer to handle complaints. 

It has also failed to implement a multi-disciplinary assessment of protection applicants within 30 days of their application for protection. This assessment aims to identify and help vulnerable applicants. 

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