Statements on Homelessness Wednesday 3 December 2014

PLEASE CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

According to the Dublin Simon Community, the official count for rough sleepers last month was 168. This represents a 30% increase in numbers since Spring 2014 and double the number since November 2012.

This is a time of many sickening firsts and all-time highs:

  • Emergency accommodation now has over 1600 adults plus 680 children. That’s never happened before!
  • Of the 1600 adults in emergency accommodation, 39% are women. That’s never happened before!
  • Emergency accommodation is turning into long term accommodation with no viable options to transition onto. That’s never happened before.
  • Many have given up looking for emergency accommodation.
  • Others believe themselves to be safer on the streets than in emergency accommodation.
  • Individuals and families are being are evicted from private rental properties every day of the week, unable to meet rent increases in an unfettered market.

We have an Emergency on our hands and it is winter. A very cold winter.

The numbers are steadily increasing and we need to act. Really act. Not a knee-jerk panicky reaction following the tragic death of Jonathan Corry. A dedicated and sustained response that looks at the crisis holistically.

For it is not just a homelessness crisis. This is a housing crisis.

A housing crisis characterized by a shortage in the social housing sector and a serious lack of affordability in the private rental sector, exacerbated by an absence in rent regulation, a rent supplement scheme completely out of sync with actual rental prices and the absence of measures to prohibit landlords discriminating against tenants on rent supplement.

The unprecedented crisis in the social housing and private rental sectors is pushing non-typical candidates into risk of homelessness and homelessness itself, for example, there are as many as 150 families in emergency hotel accommodation, the majority of whom have been pushed out of the private rental sector by spiralling rents.

Aside from the massive cost to the State, this hotel  and B&B accommodation is completely inappropriate, hugely disruptive for families and children, who may have to move schools as a result, and potentially unsafe.

I call on Government to immediately family proof all forms of emergency accommodation and to coordinate with the Child and Family Agency and emergency accommodation staff concerning child protection.

The crisis is in turn putting unprecedented pressure on frontline services and pushing those more “typically” vulnerable to homelessness (those with addiction issues and mental health difficulties and in complex situations such as young people aging out of State care, victims of domestic violence leaving the home) it pushes them  further and further to the margins only to resurface to public and political attention when they die in their sleeping bag, sleeping rough on the door step of the National Parliament.

The recently published Private Residential Tenancy Board Consultant’s Report found that rent control would make the housing market worse.

Focus Ireland rejected this finding. It maintains that rent regulation is a crucial part of a suite of measures, including an increase in rent supplement to reflect the actual cost of rent and tax breaks for landlords to encourage them to rent their properties.

I would also subscribe to a measure of rent regulation against an index as in many European countries or in line with inflation.

There are many initiatives to be commended, however there are “buts” attached to nearly all of them. For example:

  • Housing 2020 and the recently announced Social Housing Strategy but realistically we are 1.5/2 years away from meaningful delivery.
  • The new rent increase protocol agreed with the Department of Social Protection for families at imminent risk of homelessness but it is only available in Dublin and what we really need is a level of flexibility throughout the system and at an earlier juncture.
  • The Housing Assistance Payment, which is receiving a positive response from Landlords in terms of there being a guarantee around rental payment but doesn’t actually prohibit landlords from refusing to accept tenants in receipt of financial support. Also, how are people to find suitable accommodation within the maximum rent limits?

Excellent recommendations have been made in these regards and more by Focus Ireland, Threshold,  Dublin Simon Community and Peter McVerry Trust. The solutions are there. They just need to be implemented.

In closing, I would like to briefly discuss something a number of colleagues in this House said yesterday concerning Jonathan Corry and the fact that he had been offered assistance and accommodation over the 30 years he had been homeless, which de declined to take up.

I sympathise deeply with Jonathan Corry’s family and friends following his death. I didn’t know him or anything about his mental health status but I think these examples of people failing to take up an intervention and seemly choosing to remain homeless needs to be viewed in light of the Dublin Simon’s recent statistics on mental health difficulties among their service users, whereby 71% were identified as having a mental health difficulty.

Of those identified with a mental health difficulty:

  • 63% of individuals have been diagnosed with depression.
  • 46% have been diagnosed with anxiety.
  • 11% have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • 11% have been diagnosed with psychosis.

A very high proportion of people who are homeless have addiction issues.  Furthermore, a very high proportion of people who have a mental health difficulty also have an addiction issue.

I call on the Government to urgently implement the key recommendations from Mental Health Reform:

  • Fully staff homeless outreach mental health teams.
  • Ring fence local authority housing for people being discharged from psychiatric hospitals.
  • On-tap, in-house mental health expertise within homeless services. E.g. Merchants Quay Ireland has an in-house mental health nurse full time, to provide support to clients that other staff members have concerns about. There are anecdotal reports that this has reduced the number of people having to access mental health supports through A&E when in a crisis.
  • Establish a dual diagnosis services for people with a mental health and addiction/alcohol misuse problems.

We have the reports. We have the plans. We have the expertise, particularly in the NGO sector. What we need now is action. Sustained and dedicated.

27 March 2014: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD

Questions submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout and response received:

Question 9: Figures in relation to Special Care Placement.

Question 10: EU Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in Children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage’.

Question 11: Amendment to Childcare Act 1991.

 

Question 9: Figures in relation to Special Care Placement

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to provide the most up-to date figures on the following, in relation to Special Care Placements:

a)   What is the current waiting list for Special Care Placement?

As of 11th March 2014, there was one young person waiting for a special care placement. There have been ten admissions to Special Care since 1st January of this year.

 

b)   How many applications have been made to date since the beginning of 2013?

From 1st January 2013 to 5th March 2014 there were 116 special care applications – 22 of these applications were re-referrals.

 

c)    How many of these applications were successful?

Forty applications were successful, 27 were withdrawn or removed by the relevant Social Work Department, 46 were not approved and there were three in 2014 where further information had been sought and a decision has not yet been made. A Social Worker making an application for a Special Care place will also work to put in place other supportive mechanisms for the child while they await the outcome of the application. Where it is found that the alternative supports are meeting the needs of the child without the necessity of detaining the child for his/her own safety, the preference is to continue with the alternative programme. Where a child has been sentenced to detention in a Detention School, the child’s application for Special Care is withdrawn.

There is an appeals process available to Social Workers if they disagree with the decision where a child’s application to Special Care was unsuccessful. The Social Worker will also consider the Care Plan for the child and make other arrangements to find the most appropriate placement for that child. An unsuccessful application does not preclude the Social Work Department from applying at any other stage, especially in light of a child’s needs changing.

 

d)   How many State provided places are there in mainstream residential care and

e) How many are provided by Private Providers?

All Special Care placements in Ireland are operated by the Child and Family Agency and placements are under the direction of the High Court. There are no private providers of Special Care Services in Ireland, however some children with complex needs are placed out of State.

More generally, in December 2013 there were 142 Children’s Residential Centres in operation throughout the country; 47 of which were Agency-managed; 28 were run by the voluntary Sector; and 67 were operated by private providers.  These centres are typically found in domestic homes in housing estates, on the outskirts of towns and villages. The centres typically have between three and six children. These children are usually in their teens.  There is always some flux in placements available as services adapt to meet the needs of the resident children.

In December 2013, there were 356 children in care placed across the different types of residential care. Of these there were 143 children placed in the 67 privately run centres.

 

f)    What is the allocated budget for private provision?

The cost of the provision of mainstream residential placements in the privately-owned children’s residential centres for 2013 was approximately €50m. To date private placements have been commissioned on the basis of a child’s needs which will influence staffing ratio, the need for live-staff at night and additional supports to the child in the placement. There has been a consistent and predictable spend in respect of this type of residential provision, which reflects demand.

Significant work is under way within the Agency to secure the most appropriate and cost-effective care for children in the different settings in which they are accommodated. In early 2012 the HSE’s Children and Family Services undertook a tendering campaign to secure 80 places at a cost of €18.7 m per annum or €4,500 per place purchased for a two year period (extendible for a further two years if required). This arrangement will be for children whose needs can be met in a centre caring for 3 or 4 children. The process is now complete and contracts are currently being awarded in respect of 2014. It is estimated that the procurement arrangements utilised will reduce the spend in this area by €3.9m in 2014.

Any additional places that will be required will be purchased on an individual basis and in some cases may be more expensive where bespoke placements are commissioned for young people with particularly challenging needs.

The Agency has been working to increase value for money in this area by, as outlined above, seeking to promote cost effectiveness within the different options available and also moving to fostering where appropriate.

The Agency intends to undertake a centre activity audit of all aspects of residential care in 2014, and this will allow for a level of comparison of cost of placement across private and public group children’s centres and individual placement arrangements.

 

Question 10: EU Commission Recommendation ‘investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’.

To ask the Minister what action the Government is taking to implement the EU Commission Recommendation (20 February 2013) Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage, concerning child poverty and well-being and, having acknowledged that tackling poverty requires a whole-of-Government approach, will DCYA carry out a social impact assessment on any fiscal adjustments in Budget 2015 and onwards?

Ireland, led by the Department of Children & Youth Affairs (the first such Department in any EU member state), is committed to improving the lives and experiences of Ireland’s children and young people.

Many of the actions being implemented by this Government are in line with the EU Commission recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2013. These actions include:

·     Protecting and enhancing children’s rights on foot of the decision of the people in the Children’s Referendum 2012;

·     Improving child protection, welfare and family support services through the newly established Child & Family Agency;

·     Implementation of the recently-reviewed Youth Homelessness Strategy;

·     Continuing to be a world leader in both the areas of children’s participation (through the national Dáil na nÓg and local Comhairle na NÓg model); and childhood research (through the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ longitudinal study and ‘State of the Nation’s Children’ reports).

Tackling Child Poverty

The EU recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ includes a significant focus on tackling child poverty, referencing the ‘setting of national targets for reducing child poverty’ and access to quality services.

The draft National Policy Framework for Children & Young People, which is being prepared by my Department and which is due to be considered by Government shortly, currently includes a commitment to address child poverty.

With respect to services, my Department is responding through initiatives such as establishment of the Child & Family Agency (with an enhanced focus on prevention, early intervention and family support) and the roll-out of the €30m Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme.

 

Early Years/Childcare

The EU recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ recognises the importance of early childhood education and care. The EU Commission has set a target of member states having at least 95% of four year olds in pre-school. Ireland is in compliance with this target through provision of the free pre-school year.

The EU recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ also recognises the importance of access to affordable childcare. In this context I announced a review of existing targeted childcare schemes to consider how best to structure future childcare support, to both support working families and to incentivise labour market activation, which could be expanded to more families as resources allow.

Delivering improvements in quality standards and staff qualifications is a critical precursor to any future expansion of universal childcare provision and/or Government supports. I have prioritised implementation of an eight-point Quality Agenda, and there has been significant and unprecedented progress in the implementation of this agenda over the past eight months. This will continue in 2014 with establishment of landmark new National Quality Support Service, which is being seen a significant development in the context of developing EU policy.

 

Social impact assessment

In February 2012, the Government decided to develop an integrated social impact assessment to strengthen implementation of the new national social target for poverty reduction and to facilitate greater policy coordination in the social sphere.

Work in the area of social impact assessment is being led by the Department of Social Protection. A social impact assessment of Budget 2014 was published in February 2014 by that Department.  My own Department liaises regularly with the Department of Social Protection to ensure a child-centred approach informs such assessments and consequently provides learning to use in the development of our policy and service responses for children.

 

Question 11: Amendment to Childcare Act 1991.

 

Can the Minister provide a timeline for the delivery of the legislation to amend the Child Care Act, 1991, to provide a statutory right to the preparation of an aftercare plan for eligible young people leaving care and will the Minister consider extending this statutory support to young people leaving detention, as they often present with very similar needs?

The amendment to the Child Care Act 1991 to strengthen the aftercare provisions for children in care was approved by Government on 25 February 2014 for publication, and has been submitted to this Committee for its consideration.

I understand that the Committee plans to consider the matter during the month of April. Following the Committee’s deliberations the text of the amendment may need to be refined in conjunction with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, after which a timeframe for the progression of the legislation will be discussed and agreed with the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am very appreciative of the work of the Joint Committee and the contribution of the members.

Regarding children leaving detention, on average approximately one third of such children normally would have care orders and so would, in the main, be required to have an aftercare plan prepared by the Child and Family Agency.

At present, the mechanism for supervision of a child post-release from a sentence of detention (other than those who were in the care of the Child and Family Agency) is by the Probation Service if the courts impose a “detention and supervision” (i.e. in the community) order at conviction stage. Extending the right to an aftercare plan to all children completing a sentence of detention would require significant and detailed examination by officials in the relevant units of my Department, and the relevant other Departments and agencies involved, before any recommendations in relation to the matter might be formulated.

Statements on the Charities Sector

February 4th, 2014

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout speaking on the issue of the Charities Sector: Statements. Seanad Éireann

I hope not to use all my time. I agree with what my colleagues have said, so I will not repeat, in particular, what my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O’Brien, has said. It is important to instil confidence and trust and also that there is ease of access to information. Senator Feargal Quinn gave us some examples from the US. I wish to pick up a point raised by Senator Mary Ann O’Brien in regard to the use of SORP and compliance and the proposal that all salaries above €75,000 be declared. We have had a huge focus on chief executive officers. I have seen organisations finding a way to skew this by employing their chief executive part-time but having other officials within organisations at much higher salaries on a full-time basis.

I wish to add to what Senator Mary Ann O’Brien said by proposing that we would know all salaries above €75,000. When I talk about salaries I am talking about the remuneration package, any health insurance benefits, pension benefits and anything extra, such as cars, that are not in the normal cut and thrust. I would also like to know how much time that person is giving to that job, whether it be 100% or 50%. In that way we should know pro rata what is their salary. We have seen organisations appear before various committees which have worked only part-time for a public service and part-time for a private service and yet seem to be able to get a multiple times salary for that work.

I am somewhat concerned over the use of the term “charity”, which is being used quite broadly. My real concern is over the use of public money and how the State is funding organisations. Regardless of whether an organisation is set up as a private company or a charity, I want to know that that public money is going to good use. I want the same scrutiny to apply to them and I do not want a public company to hide behind company law and claim that as a public company it does not need to declare this.

I have a concern where the State is funding 100% or 90% of some services. In those cases should the State not run the service rather than it being called a charity? I believe there is an historical legacy for us here. We have organisations which started with really good purposes – traditionally religious organisations providing services mainly in the medical field. They have now professionalised and are running organisations with multi-million euro budgets. However, if we question their work they will rely on that historical legacy to get them out of trouble. I have a major issue with that because the same yardstick should be used regardless of the service provided. There is an issue with the State funding some organisations which historically get an increase of 2% or a reduction of 5% on the previous year. It is just up or down with the normal trend and all organisations are dealt with by way of the same measure. There is an issue where no tenders are sought and no responsibility on the State to outline what service it is expecting for its money. Let organisations come in and bid to provide those services.

Did the Minister know that the new Child and Family Agency will fund 700 organisations? I still do not know what all those organisations are. We have a responsibility and we have an opportunity to change it.

The Minister is moving as quickly as he can on the issues of the regulator and the board. While the regulator needs to be resourced it needs to be given the teeth such that if it has a concern it can address it. I have come across statements at committees or in the media which I have read repeatedly and tried to understand what they are telling us. It is like a secret code and it is necessary to parse the words. I still do not know if I understand what they are telling us or if they are telling us the truth. When the regulator is set up, some organisations will rush to compliance, but I am worried about agencies that believe they will swing around to compliance or use such terms. If the regulator is not getting the information it needs about these organisations, we need to be sure we will be able to back it up.

I totally agree with my colleagues and simply wanted to add those comments.

Written Response

An Update on Youth Justice Policy

28 January 2014

 

I have a good deal to say but I will try to contain myself.
I welcome the Minister, who has laid down a comprehensive statement on youth policy, which she had hoped to do in December. It is great that this is all together and that the Minister used the House to do this. The Minister mentioned that we are improving our data, but I remain concerned at the lack of data in the area, a point to which I will return. This particularly applies to juvenile offenders and children coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Through an analysis of various reports compiled by the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development and a number of significant academic studies by the likes of Sinead McPhillips, Dr. Ursula Kilkelly and Dr. Jennifer Hayes, three key risk factors associated with children who became involved in criminal behaviour have been identified. As the Minister knows, these are family background, educational disadvantage characterised by poor literacy skills and low levels of academic achievement, and personal and familial factors such as alcohol and drug misuse, intergenerational crime and mental health problems. The studies have categorised the factors for us but it is not the understanding of the majority of the public, who are confronted daily with media reports and headlines about violent youth offenders and delinquent youths who are out of control. In the absence of political and media discourse to the contrary, it is understandable that they want to see zero tolerance and tough-on-crime type approaches. That is why the Minister’s intervention is important. I support her understanding and her moves to promote prevention and early intervention.

I commend the work of so many of the agencies involved in the delivery of juvenile justice policy in Ireland, such as An Garda Síochána, particularly its Garda youth diversion projects, the dedicated young persons’ probation division of the Probation Service, the Courts Service, and the Irish Prison Service, as long as it still has 17-year-old children detained in St. Patrick’s Institution. I would like to make special mention of the Irish Youth Justice Service, IYJS, which has been leading and driving reform in the area of youth justice since its creation in 2005. It has made important strides and shows the importance of Departments working together, as the Minister outlined.
It is a real missed opportunity that a centralised data and research department has not been established in the IYJS. We need to co-ordinate inter-agency research between the agencies involved in the delivery of juvenile justice and map the trajectory of the child through the criminal justice system. Every child has an individual story but we mostly get to read these in child death reports and other significant reports. We need to collect the data earlier. We also need to identify divergences between the policy and legal framework of youth justice and its implementation, administration and practice.

I would like to personally congratulate the Minister on a number of successes and advances in youth justice policy under her stewardship. In particular, I welcome the decision on St. Patrick’s Institution and today’s update on bringing the detention centres together. It has been long promised, but the Minister has done it and I thank her for it. We need a unified approach and I am happy to hear that a new head of the campus has been appointed. I look forward to the opportunity to support the legislation brought to the House. There are significant challenges in respect of the campus but I will support the Minister. In the interim, since December 2013, 17 year olds are being remanded to Wheatfield Prison. I note specific concerns raised by the Irish Penal Reform Trust in respect of 18 to 21 year olds, and obviously any 17 year olds detained there, that Wheatfield is often overcrowded and does not have adequate education and training capacity for its inmates. The focus for our young adult prison population must be on rehabilitation and not simply containment. I remain concerned about the interim period and how we are serving these young people.
I raise my concern over the lack of sufficient special care and protection places available to children with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. I raised the point in November when we debated the Child and Family Agency Bill. From a juvenile justice policy perspective, my concern echoes that articulated by Judge Ann Ryan, who until recently presided over the Children’s Court in Smithfield. She has spoken of her frustration at the lack of HSE special care and protection places available to children, citing a correlation between the failure of the State to appropriately deal with these acutely vulnerable children and the likelihood that many will find themselves before the children’s courts facing criminal charges.

I remain concerned about this. For example, a HIQA report was published and the response was to close the centre, yet there are not enough places for the children who are vulnerable.
I refer to children who are remanded in custody. The most recent data available from the IYJS are from 2008 and show that of the 111 children detained on remand in children detention schools, only 44% went on to be sentenced to detention on conviction. That raises a twofold concern – first, that detention as a last resort requirement, the principle underlying the Children Act, was not being adequately embraced by judges at the pre-trial stage and, second, that there was an urgent need to introduce a formal system of bail support to help children to manage their bail conditions, thus helping to reduce the number being placed in detention on remand. Unfortunately, the pilot scheme mooted in 2008 in Young People on Remand: The National Children’s Research Strategy Series to offer bail support services for vulnerable children who ceme before the Children Court in Dublin and Limerick failed to materialise owing to insufficient resources. Will the Minister provide the House with the figures in this regard for the past few years? I would be interested in seeing and trying to understand them. I fear the position has not improved much from what I hear anecdotally. Will the Minister consider revisiting the bail support pilot scheme?

I refer to the issue of training. Staff and personnel engaged in the formulation and delivery of youth justice policy should be trained in the provisions of the Children Act. The Committee on the Rights of the Child made a recommendation to this effect in 2006. An advanced diploma in juvenile justice is being run by the King’s Inns. The course is attended by a great mix of professionals from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including legal professionals, juvenile liaison officers, prison officers, detention centre staff and the IYJS. Robust, specialist training such as this needs to be rolled out on a systematic basis and attendance supported by employers such as the State.
I also raise the issue of the age of criminal responsibility. The concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the age of criminal responsibility being ten years under the Criminal Justice Act 2006. The Minister has submitted a consolidated report to the committee. Has she had a communication from the committee? Will Ireland consider this issue before it appears before the committee?

On Second Stage of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in March last year I alerted the Minister for Justice and Equality to my concern about routine breaches of the Children Act in the Dublin Children Court. Examples include the court appointed registrar calling the name of the child in the public waiting room, the former practice of District Courts including YP, meaning “young person”, beside the child’s name on the court list and the presence of Gardaí and legal representatives unrelated to the specific case in the court which is mandated to sit in camera. The Minister said he would write to the Courts Service and I await a response. I raise the issue in this debate because we need to consider practical remedies to ensure the Children Act is implemented in the spirit intended by the then Minister and the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”