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Safety fears over refugee children

Published 25/05/2015

Concerns were raised over nearly 200 youngsters in the report
Concerns were raised over nearly 200 youngsters in the report

More than 200 children housed by the state after making asylum claims have been referred to authorities for welfare and safety concerns.

A report by inspectors found there were worries about 14% of the roughly 1,600 youngsters being kept in direct provision centres around the country last year.

Watchdogs at the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said the national referral rate for children is 1.6%.

Inspectors highlighted a number of cases around the lack of social work follow-ups.

In the Louth/Meath region there significant concerns about the alleged p hysical abuse of two children but the case was closed without children being visited.

In Laois/Offaly, a child who threatened suicide waited t hree years for a response from the social work team.

As part of the review of children living in direct provision, Hiqa also looked at standards and care in centres in the Midlands, and separately in Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan and Dublin North City where Hiqa said good quality standards were being provided to children and their families.

Mary Dunnion, director of regulation with Hiqa, gave a withering verdict on the quality of care in some areas.

"The quality of the child protection and welfare service provided to children across the four areas sampled in this inspection was radically inconsistent," she said.

"In the Midlands the service was mixed but in Louth Meath the service was much poorer and some risks had not been identified and addressed by managers. There was no strategic plan in place to identify and meet the needs of this particularly vulnerable group of children and families."

Hiqa raised concerns about families and their children being moved between direct provision centres without social workers being notified.

It said inspectors found 16 cases in three service areas where this had happened.

Hiqa also relaid concerns about life in the accommodation units for some children, including inappropriate contact by adults , accidental injuries caused in part by cramped living conditions and exposure to violence between residents.

It said it identified themes across direct provision which need to be addressed, including mental health issues for parents and children, physical or mental illness which impacted on mothers' and fathers' ability to care for children, and a lack of clothes and toys.

Hiqa found evidence of abuse due to excessive physical chastisement in some centres and concerns about older children left caring for younger children or children being left alone for significant periods of time.

There were also reports of youngsters being exposed to domestic violence.

Hiqa also raised concerns proximity of children to unknown adults living on the same site and inappropriate contact by adults towards some children.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said the Hiqa report paints a painful picture of life in direct provision for children.

"Children not having enough clothes or toys; children not experiencing play or normal family life; children forced to share communal bathrooms with strangers; and parents being unable to care for their children due to their own deteriorating mental health," she said.

"These findings cannot be ignored.

"Children can't be left suffering in this system. Simple reassurances will not be enough to counter these shocking findings. Nothing less than a robust child protection and welfare response with proper independent inspections will be acceptable here."

It is understood the Hiqa report on services provided by Tusla - The Child and Family Agency is the first time that a watchdog has exposed the lack of quality of the lives of children in direct provision.

Tusla said it was deploying additional managers and staff to clear backlogs of referrals and deal with new cases in an appropriate and timely manner.

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla, said: " Tusla staff must be given credit for their ongoing work with children and families in direct provision, particularly given the challenging environment which was not designed for children to live in long-term.

"Tusla has been engaging with the Reception and Integration Agency in relation to the findings of this report and are committed to working together to improve child protection and welfare services for all children in direct provision."

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