Tusla received an average of 10 child protection and welfare referrals a month in the first half of this year relating to homeless children — half of which were for neglect.
Figures provided by Tusla in response to a freedom of information request show 61 mandated reports made to the agency by managers and people in charge of homeless provision or emergency accommodation centres — 29 for neglect, 17 for physical abuse, 13 for emotional abuse, and two relating to sexual abuse.
Tusla only began collating the data at the start of this year, and while the monthly figures have fluctuated, they peaked in May, when 17 reports were made.
The figures prompted the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) to query whether homelessness itself was a contributory factor to some of the reports.
Aine McGuirk, chairwoman of the IASW, said that while family homelessness was a relatively recent phenomenon, it was now in danger of becoming normalised, even though it was a “completely unnatural environment”.
“It’s impossible to look after your children’s basic needs in that environment,” Ms McGuirk said.
She said there is a concern that children may have to enter care in circumstances where “the homeless stressor is the one that breaks that camel’s back”, adding that “the family may have been OK if they had the support, but you can’t put the supports in if they are going from hotel bed to hotel bed”.
Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, said staff in his organisation were concerned that people running hotels were not submitting these notices in the way NGO emergency accommodation providers might do.
However, he welcomed the fact that the figures were being collated and said: “The vast majority of families are doing a very good job under extreme difficulties, but some are under enormous stress and these issues arise and they need to be responded to in the appropriate way.
“This is not an indication of how bad these people are, this is an outcome of the stress they are put under.”
The second Dublin Region Homeless Executive Quarterly Activity Report for this year, published last Friday, outlined how the number of children in emergency accommodation rose from 2,509 in January to 2,858 by June.
“The numbers of adults with no children still outnumber those with children, however the number of adults with children has grown significantly,” it said.
The report also said that in the first six months of 2018 a total of 554 families were accommodated in emergency accommodation in the Dublin Region who were “new” to homelessness.
There were 9,527 people in emergency accommodation in August, including 3,693 children. The overall figure fell slightly compared to the figure for July, when 9,891 people were homeless.
Earlier this year the now-departed CEO of Tusla, Fred McBride, said he believed the homeless crisis had been a factor in the overall rise in referrals.
A spokesperson for Tusla said: “As per Children First, Tusla accepts reports which are deemed to be either ‘reasonable grounds of concern’ or ‘mandated reports of child harm’ and will review each report it receives.”