Plan to help children in care access supports

Plans could be in place by the end of the year that would make it easier for children who have been in care to secure access to housing and education, the minister for children said.

Frances Fitzgerald said a “cross-departmental protocol” would mean a greater “sensitivity” to the needs of children who have spent time in the care system.

The “charter” would mean possible preferential treatment when it comes to securing local authority housing or rent relief, as well as easier access to medical cards and educational supports.

“I think what we could do is have a cross-departmental protocol in education, environment, in all the different departments about recognising the particular position of children in care, and that includes some of those children who have been in England,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“So you would have housing, there could be extra points to help you, to go through the departments. These young people probably should have a medical card. They probably deserve it, they probably are eligible anyway; access to disability services, whatever is needed.”

Asked if the plan could be in place by the end of 2014, she said: “I would hope so.”

Michele Clark, head of policy development in the minister’s department, said the supports would not be limited to those who ‘age out’ and reach 18 while in care, but could be open to anyone who had spent time in the care system growing up. She also said plans are in place to build a forensic adolescent unit as part of the new mental health facility development in Portrane, and that this is at planning stage.

According to the minister: “If we don’t intervene properly these are the future residents of either mental health facilities or prisons, so it’s that serious, it deserves this attention and it’s getting it.”

Ms Fitzgerald admitted some young people who may have spent time overseas in a different care setting and who on turning 18, decide to return to that area, may not be availing of aftercare packages that could support them there.

“Can they be theoretically supported in the UK? Yes. Does it happen often enough? Probably not.”

On the issue of overseas placements, she said: “These are Irish children, I want to see Irish services respond to them, but I have to be realistic.

“In terms of misgivings, what I would say is I want to be the minister who oversees growth in number of places [in Ireland] so we can more readily meet the very complex needs of young people who have serious problems.”

Supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund.

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