As the Minister knows, we still have almost 4,000 children experiencing homelessness in emergency accommodation, with perhaps thousands more in insecure and unsuitable accommodation. The Minister told me earlier this year that we now have 120 family resource centres operating across the country with a budget of approximately €14 million. Does the Minister intend to give increased allocations to some or all of the centres in order to provide some services for families and children experiencing homelessness?
Deputy Broughan was recently contacted by concerned constituents and medical professionals regarding the withdrawal of inpatient paediatric rehabilitation services in the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH). Earlier this summer, it was reported that the Consultant Paediatrician who provided cover to the National Rehabilitation Hospital from Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin was taking unplanned leave, leaving the NRH with no cover for this vital service. Deputy Broughan requested information via Parliamentary Question and was this week informed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that “the inability to admit children for specialist inpatient rehabilitation has seen a resultant increase in the numbers waiting by 38% when compared with waiting figures at the end of Q1 2018 when services were fully operational.”
Deputy Broughan welcomed the Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty’s recent comments about prioritising addressing child poverty and lone-parent families in Budget 2018. While last year’s increase to all Social Protection payments was also very welcome, a targeted effort must be made on lifting children out of poverty.
“Assessments of Need under the Disability Act 2005 must be commenced within three months of an application received and completed within a further three months. Despite the strict timelines it appears the average duration of the assessment process is now over 11 months in certain parts of the country. If your child’s assessment has been delayed, please contact my office. My office has received recent information on this matter which may be helpful in ensuring that statutory guidelines for assessment are adhered to.”
Deputy Broughan has recently asked a number of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, on various types of care for children in Ireland today. In a PQ reply received this week, Minister Zappone confirmed that at the end of February this year there were 6,309 children in care nationally. 5,822 of these are in foster care.
The Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, submitted the third and fourth reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. If the Government survives, I understand the Minister will represent us in January at an examination of those reports. Some of the subjects he will obviously deal with will be child poverty, which he just discussed, child protection, services for children, education, health, disability services and so on. I hope that among the issues he will cover will be the impact of homelessness on our children.
Deputy Tommy Broughan has this morning, during oral Parliamentary Questions slammed the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly, for his total lack of intervention to protect families experiencing homelessness. Deputy Broughan was questioning the Minister on his preparation for the upcoming UN Review on the Rights of the Child and addressed the worrying issue of homelessness among children.
This is not a party political issue Ministers. By declaring a housing emergency and setting up a cross-government action group next week, including input from those representing families experiencing homelessness, we could start to seriously address this worsening crisis. By the time the small numbers of housing units being planned are delivered by 2020, irreversible damage will already have been done to the longer term mental health and development of the thousands of Irish children experiencing such stress and instability.
The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that “106,460 customers will receive an automatic payment” of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance this year. At an information briefing in Dáil Éireann yesterday, officials from the Department of Social Protection stated that correspondence to social welfare recipients who have no need to complete an application form has been issued this week. If you have not received such a letter by early next week you will need to apply for the allowance.
Deputy Tommy Broughan has today expressed his absolute shock and disgust at the continued inaction by Enda Kenny, Alan Kelly and their Government on the homeless crisis which is currently wreaking havoc on Irish families and children. Today, Friday the 24th of April there are 65 families awaiting placement in emergency homeless accommodation between the 4 local authorities. Last week figures released showed a 55% increase in the number of homeless families in the past year meaning that despite their continued attempts to blame an ‘inherited’ problem, the Fine Gael/Labour Government have no choice but to take responsibility for this crisis.