By Cate McCurry, PA
There have been calls to reform homeless legislation to ensure the rights and the best interests of children are put to the fore, a charity has said.
Focus Ireland, a homeless charity, said current legislation is written on the assumption that those who become homeless are single men and that has directed the response to the crisis.
Mike Allen, director of advocacy, research and communications, said he was not criticising local authorities but rather the legislation underpinning its work.
“All of that (legislation) is written on the assumption that people becoming homeless are single men, and that the response to that is related to that to them,” Mr Allen told the Oireachtas children’s committee.
CEO @patjdenn addresses Joint Committee on Children Equality Disability Integration & Youth to discuss Child Poverty. Joined by @MikeAllenFI & Kelly Byrne from our Lived Experience Ambassador Programme which brings people who have used our services into the heart of our work . pic.twitter.com/GVYA0WZhlj
— FocusIreland (@FocusIreland) November 9, 2021
“That’s why we’re saying that all the things we have done in terms of changing the constitution and putting children at the centre of it, none of that’s carried into homeless legislation.
“The homeless legislation should be reformed so that local authorities and public servants delivering public services are clearly informed that they have to put the rights to the interest of the child first in any dealings.
“Unfortunately, there’s so many other things going on that the rights of the child and the interest of the child haven’t been top priority.”
Mr Allen said that to address child poverty, the Government should reduce the number of children experiencing homeless, place a six-month limit on the time they can spend in emergency accommodation and ensure they have access to family support workers.
Pat Dennigan, chief executive of Focus Ireland, said that funding a sufficient number of Child Support Workers to support children experiencing homelessness should be a key component of Ireland’s plan to deliver the EU Child Guarantee.
The guarantee aims to prevent and combat child poverty and social exclusion in the EU.
“The importance of Child Support Workers is demonstrated by our experience with the Focus Ireland Family Centre and the Dublin Family Homeless Action Team,” Mr Dennigan added.
“Secondly, we support Deputy Jan O’Sullivan’s private members legislation that proposes that local authorities would be required to put the ‘best interest’ of children at the centre of their decision making when responding to a homeless family.”
The committee also heard how young people are groomed by criminal gangs to act as drug mules.
Barnardo’s chief executive Suzanna Connolly said the organisation works with gardai and other organisations in some areas to try and give alternatives to children and young people.
“We’re well aware of what we would call the grooming of young people into inappropriate, short term, attractive propositions to them because it gives them money, it can give them a sense of status and also give them a sense of excitement,” Ms Connolly added.
“What’s particularly important is we try and keep those young people engaged in school as much as possible, and ensure that that they have a routine to their lives.
“That makes it less likely that they will have this spare they can be associated with groups in the community which aren’t there for their best interest and are exploiting them.”