herald

Thursday 22 August 2019

Homeless children 'are increasingly suicidal and suffering from trauma'

Senator Catherine Noone
Senator Catherine Noone

A leading charity has told an Oireachtas committee that an increasing number of homeless children living in emergency accommodation are having suicidal thoughts.

Focus Ireland family support team manager Niamh Lambe told the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs: "We see a lot of trauma, children experiencing more and more trauma the longer they stay.

"Children having sleepless nights from anti-social behaviour from others in hubs, children not being able to go out in the road and play or have children over on a play date 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."

Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said that when homelessness is discussed "we think" it refers to people "without a roof over their head".

While not meaning to "appear lacking in empathy" on the issue, she added: "There's a difference between that and those that are housed," referring to hubs and homeless accommodation.

Fianna Fail spokeswoman for children Anne Rabbitte thanked Focus Ireland for its work.

Solution

"It's not normal that we have 4,000 children in emergency accommodation, whether it's in a hub or b&b," Ms Rabbitte said.

"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 toward homeless families.

Ms Lambe said children were "here there and everywhere...they're not living near or maybe not turning up to school".

Children were often doing their homework on the car journey home from school.

"In the accommodation that children are staying in, homework is done on the bed or on the floor," 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 around; 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 study which showed life in emergency accommodation was having a "destructive impact" on children.

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, health issues and a lack of family social time. One family had lived in a hotel for three years.

Focus director of advocacy Mike Allen said only 9pc of the children in the hubs that the charity covers have child support workers.

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