Young people become homeless for a range of reasons. It is rare that any one single event is the cause of leaving home. Instead, it is more likely that homelessness occurs following a series of events, or a build-up of situations. Triggers for youth homelessness in Ireland are varied. Examples might include conflicts within the family, violence at home, addiction, mental health issues or leaving residential or foster care. Others at risk of youth homelessness are young people leaving prison or juvenile detention centres.
Statistically, the incidences of youth homeless are greater in urban areas. Youth homelessness can however occur anywhere and to anyone irrespective of their background. The following information provides an overview of the supports available to young homeless people in Ireland (and those providing services to them). An outline of national policy relating to young homeless people is also given below.
Youth homelessness is similar to, but is different from adult homelessness. Primarily, this is because the Health Service Executive (HSE) has a specific duty of care to all children in their area that is set down in law. That is, the HSE have a legal responsibility under the Child Care Act 1991 to provide for the care and welfare of children who can no longer remain at home. The Youth Homeless Strategy has defined youth homelessness as any young person (generally under 18 but up to 21 in some cases) who is:
A further difference between youth and adult homelessness is that the majority of children in Ireland have a base or somewhere they could potentially return to. They may be unable to remain living at home but their parent(s)/guardian or the HSE may still have responsibility for caring for them. Adult homeless people are those over 18 years and no agency or body is legally obliged to provide specific services to them, purely on the basis of their homeless status.
The Youth Homeless Strategy was published by the Government in October 2001. This strategy sets out various objectives and steps to reduce/eliminate youth homelessness in Ireland. The Health Service Executive (HSE) has primary responsibility for implementing the strategy, and two-year strategic plans on how they will achieve this were submitted to the Department of Health. These plans were approved in 2002 and are currently being implemented. The implementation of the Strategy is being monitored and co-ordinated by the Youth Homelessness Strategy Monitoring Committee, chaired by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Primarily, responsibility for children and young homeless people (up to age 18) resides with each Local Health Office of the Health Service Executive (HSE). Where children are identified as being ‘at risk’, the HSE has the right to intervene where, for the child’s safety it is no longer safe for them to remain or return home. In such circumstances, these children may be placed in foster care or in residential care. Homeless children, not considered to be otherwise at risk, are provided with accommodation under Section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991.
Certain young people leaving residential care, foster care, prison, or juvenile detention services may be at risk of youth homelessness. Local Health Offices however, work to reduce this risk by setting up after-care supports for children leaving care. Many children and young people come into contact with homeless services through voluntary agencies, through social workers or the Gardai. There are many organisations working specifically with homeless people and with homeless young people. Agencies may provide meals, advice, support, hostel or other accommodation in addition to health and education services.
Unaccompanied foreign nationals under 18 years arriving by ferry or air without their family are routinely referred to the HSE. The HSE may then decide that an application for a declaration as a refugee should be made on behalf of the minor. Specific arrangements will be made by the HSE, in conjunction with the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner for the processing of such applications. The HSE is responsible for the general care and well-being of the minor and will provide assistance to them. Read more about coming to Ireland as a refugee or asylum seeker here.
Many young people who are out-of-home (i.e., have a home but cannot live or return there) come to the attention of the local Gardaí. Often, this is because the Gardaí come across young people sleeping on the streets or in other places not designed for night-time use. In such situations, the common practice is for the Gardaí to contact the on-duty social worker for the Local Health Office so that emergency accommodation can be arranged. Following this, the short-, medium- and long-term needs of the child are assessed by the HSE and where necessary, an appropriate care plan is put in place. This may involve the child being returned home or placed in alternative care/accommodation, as appropriate.
It can be difficult to know who to turn to and where to seek help if you are a young person out of home. In addition, the services provided by different HSE Community Care Areas can differ substantially. In practice, it is more likely that young homeless people come to the attention of homeless services through different channels. These might include voluntary or community organisations, the Gardaí, social workers, friends and family, and social welfare services.
If you are under 18 years of age, the HSE is obliged to provide adequate care and protection for you. If you are over 18 years and have left residential care, your after-care service will be a useful source of information, advice and support.
None of the foregoing should be construed as superseding or diminishing the statutory responsibility of the HSE regarding the care and protection of young people under the Child Care Act 1991 and all staff should be aware of their responsibility to report child abuse as outlined in Children First - National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (pdf).
If you are a young person under 18 years, who is at risk or homeless, or if you know a young person under 18 years who is at risk or homeless, contact your Local Health Office of the HSE. The HSE has qualified staff, skilled at dealing with these matters, who can provide advice, information and support.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.