OCO’s report on the investigation, to be published today, says “decisions made based on incorrect information and the delay in developing national quality standards negatively impacted on the children”.
Director of investigations Nuala Ward said the family had become homeless after they took the “brave step” of leaving a situation of domestic violence.
“They were initially placed in a women’s refuge before living in homeless accommodation, including B&Bs and hotels, which were not at all suitable for normal family living,” she said.
“They slept on blood-stained mattresses, they were crammed into rooms with four sets of bunkbeds, they were placed in accommodation where they were exposed to the mother’s ex-partner or his friends, and like every other family living in B&Bs and hotels, the mother could not cook for her children or allow them to have friends over.”
Ms Ward said mistakes were made by Fingal County Council. “And while we cannot say for sure that these errors delayed the family being housed, it did cause stress for the family and was not in the children’s best interests,” she said.
“This family was forced to go through an unnecessarily bureaucratic process to ensure their housing application could progress separately from the mother’s ex-partner who she had separated from due to domestic abuse. This process was a huge burden on the family, and again did not take into consideration the best interests of the children.”
Ms Ward said OCO had seen housing complaints increase from 4% to 5% in 2016, adding that this particular complaint highlighted some of the issues her organisation was seeing more frequently — housing policy and practices which did not consider children’s best interests.
“The housing complaints we receive show clearly that children are not seen as individuals who have rights that must be respected. Children are merely an add-on to parents or guardians in housing policy and legislation,” said Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children.
“The issue of children living in homeless accommodation is not going away, in fact it is worse than ever with 2,777 children homeless as of the end of May. Children cannot be ignored in housing policy anymore.
“We must also face the reality of emergency accommodation. One year on from the launch of Rebuilding Ireland this issue has not been resolved and now family hubs are being introduced. Standards of accommodation must be provided to all families in emergency accommodation. These standards need to be monitored, implemented, and they should carry sanctions for non-compliance.”