Hiqa highlights fears for safety of children in asylum centres
A damning report by the health watchdog has revealed how one child in every seven living in a direct provision centre had to be referred to social services in a single year.
Some 229 children were subject to referrals over child protection and welfare concerns between August 2013 and August 2014, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said.
It found children living in centres for asylum seekers had been exposed to physical abuse and domestic violence.
In 18 cases, abuse fears were so serious they were notified to gardaí by child protection workers.
The Hiqa report raised concerns about inappropriate contact by adults towards some children. It also identified significant failings in some cases, including one in Laois/Offaly, where it took three years for a social work team to respond to a referral about a child threatening suicide.
Hiqa's findings come as the Government faces mounting pressure to radically alter the direct provision system or do away with it altogether.
Earlier this month, the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions published a report recommending the direct provision system be scrapped.
A Government working group, tasked with bringing forward recommendations for the future of the system, is due to issue a report to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the coming days.
The system, initially put in place as a temporary measure in 2000, has become largely discredited.
Under direct provision, asylum seekers are housed in centres and not allowed to work while their applications are processed. There are also barriers to them entering third-level education.
Delays in processing applications and dealing with appeals can often mean an asylum seeker spends several years waiting to learn if they will get refugee status.
While these failings have been apparent for several years, Hiqa's report has turned the spotlight on the impact of the system on children and on the mental health of them and their parents.
Its director of regulation, Mary Dunnion, said: "The authority has grave concerns about the high number of children living in direct provision centres who have been referred to the child and family agency."
Of these referrals, 51pc referred to child welfare issues while the remaining 49pc related to child protection concerns.
The report said the nature of the welfare referrals varied but there were some common themes.
These included the physical or mental illness of a parent impacting on capacity to provide quality care for children, lack of clothes and toys, and parents isolating themselves and their children from support services.
The report made a number of recommendations, including one calling for Tusla, the child and family agency, to conduct an audit to ensure there are no outstanding or incomplete assessments.
Tusla chief executive Gordon Jeyes said it accepted the findings and was working to deal with a backlog in referrals.