Young people become homeless for a range of reasons – it is rare that any one event is the cause. Triggers might include conflicts within the family; violence, abuse or neglect at home; drug or alcohol addiction; emotional or behavioural problems; or leaving residential or foster care. Young people leaving prison or juvenile detention centres may also be at risk.
Youth homelessness is defined in the Youth Homelessness Strategy (pdf), which builds on the work of the Forum on Youth Homelessness (pdf). The Forum’s work covered homeless young people between the ages of 12 and 20.
The Strategy and Forum both define youth homelessness to include any young person who is:
Youth homelessness is similar to adult homelessness but it is also different. This is mainly because the Child and Family Agency has 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 Act defines a child as a person under 18 years of age who is not or has not been married. The Agency assumed responsibility in January 2014 for the child welfare and protection services formerly operated by the Health Service Executive (HSE).
A further difference between youth and adult homelessness is that most children have a base or place of residence where they could potentially live. They may be unable to stay living there, but their parent(s)/guardian or the Child and Family Agency may still have responsibility for caring for them. However, in the case of adults - people aged over 18 years - who are homeless, no agency or body is legally obliged to provide specific services to them purely on the basis of their homeless status.
Where children are identified as being at risk, the Agency has the right to intervene for the child’s safety, if it is no longer safe for the child to remain or return home. In such circumstances, the child may be placed in foster care or in residential care. Children who are homeless, but who are 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. The Child and Family Agency works to reduce this risk by setting up aftercare supports for such children. It is intended to put the requirement for an aftercare plan on a statutory basis – see After leaving care below.
Unaccompanied foreign nationals under 18 years arriving in the State by ferry or air without their family are routinely referred to the Child and Family Agency, which may then decide that an application for a declaration as a refugee should be made on behalf of the minor. The Agency makes specific arrangements in conjunction with the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner forthe processing of such applications. The Agency is responsible for the general care and well-being of the minor and will provide assistance to them.
Many children and young people come into contact with homeless services through voluntary agencies, through social workers or the Garda Síochána. 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.
When the Gardaí find young people sleeping on the streets or in other places not designed for night-time use, they generally contact the on-duty social worker for the Child and Family Agency so that emergency accommodation can be arranged. This can be in a residential children’s home; in a bed and breakfast; or with foster parents. The Agency then assesses the needs of the child for the short, medium and long term and, where necessary, it puts an appropriate care plan in place. This may involve the child being returned home or being placed in alternative care/accommodation, as appropriate.
In Dublin, the Crisis Intervention Service, which is also known as the Out-of-Hours Service, is the initial point of contact for young people who experience homelessness. This is a social work service that also deals with accommodation. To access this service, the young person must go to a Garda station. The station then contacts the Crisis Intervention Service.
The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) has responsibility for promoting the welfare of children up to the age of 18. It may also help a child leaving care if such help is required but it is not obliged to provide this help at present. In practice, the Agency does provide aftercare up to the age of 21, or to 23 if the young person is in full-time education.
The General Scheme and Heads of the Aftercare Bill 2014 were published in February 2014. This proposes that the Child and Family Agency will have a statutory duty to prepare an aftercare plan for children who have spent some time in the care system and who are soon to leave the system. That plan would include arrangements for accommodation.
An aftercare guide Pathways (pdf) is available on Focus Ireland's website.
Young people who were in the care of the Child and Family Agency (or previously in the care of the HSE) before the age of 18 and who qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance when they reach 18 may get the full rate of the payment rather than the reduced rates that apply to those aged between 18 and 26. Young people who were not in care and who become homeless may qualify only for the reduced rates.
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 the Child and Family Agency or the Garda Síochána.
None of the foregoing should be construed as superseding or diminishing the statutory responsibility of the Child and Family Agency 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 Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011) (pdf).
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000. The Phone Service will operate Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm during January 2017. You can also visit your local Citizens Information Centre.