Children in direct provision at risk of abuse

Inspections watchdog Hiqa has expressed serious concerns about children living in the direct provision system, with an inspection report showing they are at risk of physical and mental abuse.

The inspections carried out by Hiqa, the Health Information and Quality Authority, showed that evidence or claims of physical or mental illness of parents, exposure to domestic violence, physical abuse, and neglect were “common themes” in children in the asylum system who were the subject of referrals to the Child and Family Agency, Tusla.

Hiqa said there was an obvious “disparity” given that 85% of the children in direct provision who were the subject of child welfare and protection concerns in one year met the threshold for an initial assessment. That compares to an average of 50% of children generally who are similarly referred and meet that threshold.

The inspections found there had been 209 referrals of child protection and welfare concerns about 229 children in the year to the end of last August — 14% of the total number of children living in direct provision (DP). That rate is considerably higher than the 1.6% of children in the general population who were the subject of a referral in the same period. Of the 178 referrals that met the threshold for an assessment, 91 related to child welfare and 87 to protection.

The report by Hiqa on the management of child protection and welfare concerns by the Child and Family Agency involving children in DP also highlighted the potential for mental health issues in children, gaps in practical support, and “excessive physical chastisement”.

There were also instances where children were left “home alone”.

The inspections took place across numerous dates in November in Louth, Meath, the Midlands, Sligo, Leitrim, West Cavan and in the Dublin North City area, with office-based interviews in December.

Worryingly, the report — the first of its kind — indicates that in some cases action was not taken to protect children because cases were closed prematurely or because information was not passed on due to “gaps in communication” between service providers and Tusla. Of the 87 cases involving DP children referred nationally in 2013, care orders were obtained for 13 children and gardaí were notified about abuse in 18 cases.

EPIC (Empowering People In Care) said the report indicated a “crisis” in DP while Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Hiqa’s 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.”

Gordon Jeyes, the chief executive of Tusla, said the agency accepted there were issues that needed to be addressed and that Tusla’s chief operations officer was overseeing a rapid improvement programme.

Sue Conlon, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council who earlier this year resigned from the Government-appointed expert group that is reviewing protection issues involving DP, said of the report: “There are no surprises — the surprise is nobody seems to be taking it seriously. What are we waiting for? Do we have to wait for the death of a child? I hope not."

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