Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan says the State should be legally obliged to provide aftercare for separated asylum-seeking children once they turn 18.
Most children who arrive in Ireland without parents or legal guardians are put in foster homes until they turn 18, after which they are moved to state-designated accommodation centres.
Joint research by children’s charity Barnardos and the HSE found “significant concerns” about the current practice of transferring the young adults to the centres.
It said the practice exacerbated the vulnerability of the young adults, some of whom had been in foster care for years.
In particular, it warned the young people were vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking, especially when sent to direct centres far from their foster family.
Ms Logan said there was a “fundamental flaw and deficit” in Irish legislation on aftercare for children once they turned 18.
She urged Frances Fitzgerald, the minister for children, and Alan Shatter, the minister for justice, to consider the situation separated children found themselves in once they reached 18 years.
Barnardos head of advo-cacy Catherine Joyce, said the research showed the uncertainty and fear the policy caused for young people and the impact moving to direct provision had on them.
“As one such person who moved into direct provision said in the report: ‘Nobody will come to your room to ask you are you OK. Even if they didn’t see you for the whole day, nobody cares. I just sit in my room and I cry and cry and cry’.”
Ms Joyce said there had been many reports in recent years about the failure of State policy to treat children with compassion and care.
“In 20 years time, will we look back in horror at the way vulnerable children who come to Ireland looking for help... and wonder what we could have done differently.”
She said young people who had been living in the State for eight to 10 years should be given automatic leave to remain before they turned 18 so that they could continue their education.
The research also highlighted changes in how the State cares for separated children since the publication of the Ryan report on institutional child abuse.
The most obvious change has been to move most of the young people into foster care or supported lodgings.
There were 71 separated children referred to the HSE’s team for Separated Children Seeking Asylum last year.
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