Over 90% of homeless children do not have access to a support worker, a charity has said.
Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, said the experience of being homeless is deeply traumatic for children and their parents and can have lifelong consequences.
Representatives from Focus Ireland, which has been working with homeless people for more than 30 years, appeared before the Children and Youth Affairs Committee today.
It emerged that only 9% of children have access to a support worker who is specially trained to work with children.
Niamh Lambe, leader of the charity’s family support team, said these workers help children through the trauma of being homeless.
“They help children express themselves more and understand their difficulty with displacement,” she added.
“If every child had a support worker it would make a huge improvement to the overall family outcomes. It would support the parent and child to move on more successfully.”
Mr Allen said it is important that Ireland addresses the issues homeless children face.
He said homelessness has historically been seen as a problem experienced largely by adults, particularly men.
“The legislation passed by the Oireachtas to guide local authorities in responding to homelessness is blind in relation to children and that follows through in the practice and the way children’s interests are addressed,” he said.
“That gap could be addressed in changes in regulation. But it falls primarily to this House to amend that legislation so that interests of the children can be addressed.
“A key part of what we have come to understand and crucial to how we should be responding, is that families that are coping with homelessness are more likely to move successfully out of homelessness.”
He also criticised parties who use homeless figures as a political instrument.
“We all need to recognise that using statistics that way is not for good outcomes. The reason to collect is for understanding,” he added.
“There is an increasing sense in which the frustration and the problem and the scale of the homelessness crisis is leading to a concentration of policy level to be concerned only with (homeless) numbers.
“We will come to the end of this crisis with a residue of a large number of families who have been homeless for a long period of time and a large number of families whose lives have been destroyed.”
He welcomed a recommendation to amend housing legislation to include the rights of the child.
He said there are 4,000 children living in homeless accommodation which, he said, will have devastating consequences.
Mr Allen also said no local authorities have given staff guidelines or training on how to respond to young children suffering from trauma.
He said the system is designed around adult homelessness.
“It’s not a magic wand, if you don’t write children into legislation, children will be forgotten,” he said.
- Press Association