Wednesday 19 June 2019

Children in homeless accommodation are displaying 'suicidal ideation', says Focus Ireland

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Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

Focus Ireland told an Oireachtas Committee that homeless children are displaying suicidal ideation - while Senator Catherine Noone said she hadn’t “meant to appear lacking in empathy” during the meeting.

Niamh Lambe, manager at Focus Ireland’s family support team, told the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs: “We see a lot of trauma, children experiencing more and more trauma the longer they stay in (homeless accommodation).

“...Children having sleepless nights from anti-social behaviour from others in hubs, children not being able to go out in the road and play...the children can’t... have children over on a playdate and they have to have a supervisor when playing with (homeless) neighbours.

“There is suicidal ideation from young children. It’s there and it’s increasing. There are child protection and welfare concerns, children missing school.”

Read more here: Government and its policies making homelessness crisis worse - watchdog 

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone asked at one point during the committee about the different definitions of homelessness.

She stated that when homelessness was discussed “we think” that this term referred to people “without a roof over their head.”

“There’s a difference between that and those that are housed,” she added, referring to hubs and homeless accommodation.

But after Fianna Fail spokeswoman for children Anne Rabitte thanked the charity for its work and gave an emotional response to its findings, Deputy Noone changed her tune.

“When I got called the first time...I didn’t mean to appear lacking in empathy on...children being homeless,” she said.

“I’m delighted Anne articulated that so well and I’d like to also thank you in the work you do.”

Read more here: Homelessness rising as councils are tasked to spy on Airbnb users 

Deputy Rabbitte was visibly moved during the meeting and said: “It’s not normal that we have 4,000 children in emergency accommodation, whether it’s in a hub or b&b.

“If they don’t have their own front door... it’s not their home, the only solution is to build houses.”

She called for local authority staff to be more compassionate towards homeless families, stating it would not cost anything to do so.

Ms Lambe said children were “here, there and everywhere... they’re not living near or maybe not turning up to school. There are many layers to trauma.”

Children were often doing homework on the car journey home from school, she said.

“In the accommodation children are staying in, homework is done on the bed or on the floor, some very basic developmental things are being missed for children,” she added.

“Younger children don’t have space to learn how to crawl, older children don’t have space to sit and do their homework without younger siblings round, teenagers don’t have space to be teenagers. At every level of childhood, the trauma is reinforced while they’re in homelessness.”

The charity’s comments come on the back of a year-long study published in the Geographical Journal which showed that life in emergency accommodation was having a “destructive impact” on children and significantly on their mental and physical development. 

The research compiled via interviews with 16 formerly homeless families, who had lived in hotels in Dublin, found not being able to cook led to higher costs for families and health issues due to lack of nutrition and a lack of family social time. One family had lived in a hotel for three years.

That study found one toddler’s speech had not developed since moving into a hostel despite the child previously hitting milestones.

The report also noted an increase in short-term lets via through companies like Airbnb had made it more difficult for local authorities to access social housing for people on the housing list. While it also confirmed hotels were asking families to leave during busy periods to make way for tourists.

Director of Advocacy at Focus, Mike Allen, called for State protections to be implemented for homeless children. He said homeless services take account mostly of adults and more of a drive needs to be made to cater for child-friendly environments.

The charity is concerned family hubs are turning into long term institutions and that homeless figures aren't tracking all families either.

The charity said only 9pc of the children in the hubs they cover (more than 20) have child support workers, specialists who can help with trauma and as far as they know there are none for children outside of Dublin.

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