39 children placed in homeless centres

Thirty-nine children spent up to 10 nights in youth homeless centres last year, according to Health Service Executive figures.

The children, aged 16 and 17, had not been taken into care by the HSE because, under Section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991, the HSE has the option of placing them in “suitable alternative accommodation”.

The children spent more than four consecutive nights, or more than 10 separate nights over a year, in these centres.

The figures also show that six children who were in the HSE’s care were placed in youth homeless centres.

All 45 children were placed in homeless centres in the HSE South.

In addition to the use of homeless centres, 636 children were referred to the emergency out-of-hours placement service, of whom 504 were given emergency placements. The number of nights’ accommodation supplied by the out-of-hours service totalled 2,463 in 2012, according to figures in the HSE December Performance Monitoring Report.

In relation to the use of youth homeless centres, Aidan Waterstone, HSE national specialist for children and family services, said a new national policy was introduced in March last year which clarified the use of Section 5 of the 1991 Child Care Act, ie, that children under 16 could not be considered homeless but must be taken in care.

However Kieran O’Hora, a social care worker and spokesman for SWAN (Social Work Action Network), said children under 16 continued to be placed in youth homeless centres under Section 5 and that in some cases, remained there for up to three months.

“The practice does continue. Children are staying for up to 12 weeks in youth homeless centres,” he said.

Jennifer Gargan, director of Epic, which represents children in care, said there should be no differentiation in the treatment of children under 16 and between the ages of 16 and 18.

“We feel very strongly that children are children up to the age of 18, as per our Constitution, and they should have the same entitlements.” She said it was not right that children over 16 were treated as “second class citizens”. “If they are not legally in care, there is no aftercare for them; they are not necessarily allocated a social worker or a care plan,” she said.

Mr Waterstone said a series of procedures was followed for children in these circumstances (children not in care who are placed in alternative accommodation) including allocation of a key worker and the drawing-up of a placement plan.

Section 5 of the Child Care Act states that where it appears a child is homeless, the HSE must either take the child into care or take steps to find alternative suitable accommodation. Prior to March last year, this approach was applied to children under and over 16.

However, on foot of a recommendation of the Ryan commission of enquiry into child abuse 2009, the HSE undertook a national review of the use of Section 5, as a result of which there was a change of practice. It meant children under 16 who were homeless had to be the subject of a care order if a return home was unsuccessful.

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