Belfast Telegraph

Government marked down for record on family homelessness

The Government has got its worst mark in six years for children's rights with campaigners warning some of the most vulnerable are being rendered invisible.

Awarding a D plus grade, the Children's Rights Alliance said young victims of crime, homeless and poverty stricken youngsters, those from Traveller and Roma families and child refugees and asylum seekers are being left behind.

The latest official figures, issued on Monday evening, revealed 87 families with 151 children became homeless in January in Dublin alone, that is one child becoming homeless every five hours.

There are now 2,407 children living in emergency accommodation, hotels or B&Bs and 2,046 of them are in the capital.

Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen said: "There is a real danger that we are beginning to view family homelessness as one of those unsolvable problems which is always with us.

"Behind each of these numbers there is a real human being, a child wanting the same opportunities to learn and to play like every other child, or a parent wanting to do the best for their children and make the most of their own life."

Focus Ireland hit out at the Government for refusing to back a reform which would have protected tenants of buy-to-let landlords who sold their properties.

The Children's Rights Alliance scorecard described the issue as an epidemic.

It said: "Families are living in one room, children often have nowhere to crawl. Parents are travelling across the city to try and keep their children in school.

"They often have nowhere to cook so they are feeding their children fast food and running out of money. Members are telling us that children are arriving at school in dirty clothes.

"Some families are living in unhygienic and unsafe conditions with used syringes left in bedrooms, insect infestations, mould and damp causing respiratory issues, significant overcrowding and children being kept awake due to noise from surrounding pubs and clubs."

The charity highlighted there is only one 24-hour state service for under 14s who have suffered sexual assault.

It is in Galway and has been forced to close temporarily twice in the last two years.

It also warned about significant delays facing children trying to accessing counselling and the CARI Foundation, which offers supports, reported a 200% rise in families on its waiting list since January 2015.

Child abuse victims or witnesses to abuse often wait six months to be interviewed for a court case, the alliance's chief executive Tanya Ward said.

"Six months is a long time in the life of a child. For a vulnerable, and at risk child, six months is an eternity," she said.

The worst marks were awarded over the issue of homelessness and the treatment of Traveller and Roma children.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said the report card echoes priorities identified in her department such as the cost of childcare.

"My officials are also working hard to put the administrative, IT and payments procedures in place to ensure we continue to change our childcare services from being one of the most expensive in the world to the best," she said.

"There are those families who simply cannot afford to wait for our changes to come into force and working with Focus Ireland my department has commenced a free childcare scheme for young children who are homeless."

Jan O'Sullivan, Labour spokeswoman on children and youth affairs, said the Government is close to all-out failure on children's welfare.

"If the rights of children, now enshrined in the Constitution, are to be vindicated, a blueprint for action across Government departments is urgently needed. Our children deserve political priority," she said.

Ms O'Sullivan said there had been improvements in LGTB issues, paid paternity leave but there are no improvements in waiting times for youth mental health services and no change to redress imbalance between the right to maintain denominational schools and the rights to secular education in a state-funded school.

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