Children and Young People Sector Urge Government to Act Now to Deliver Life-Changing White Paper
Wednesday 5 May 2021: For immediate release
A warm welcome was extended to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD today at a Children’s Rights Alliance event that scrutinised the Government’s 'long awaited' White Paper on Ending Direct Provision, first published in February 2021. Particularly welcome was the Minister’s categoric acceptance of all of the Ombudsman for Children’s recommendations in his recent Safety and Welfare of Children in Direct Provision Report, which had found ‘Direct Provision’, the system established in 2000 to house people who come to Ireland seeking asylum, as not having the best interests of children at its core.
Given that over 1,000 children live in Direct Provision, the purpose of the online briefing was for Alliance members and other key stakeholders to hear from Minister O'Gorman and a panel of experts on the potential transformative implications of the proposals from a children and young people perspective. Key panellists were keen to point out that, as a sector, and as individuals in our own communities, we all have a role to play in holding Government to account and urging them to act now to deliver ‘life changing’ reforms.
Overall, there was strong support for the White Paper, particularly recommendations to reduce the length of time spent in initial reception accommodation (Phase One) and the move towards providing people with own-door, family-appropriate accommodation in the community (Phase 2). Another important and welcome aspect of the new system is the fact that for the first time in more than 20 years, children in the protection process will be treated equally to other children living in Ireland who get a Child Benefit payment every month. While the Minister stated that the increase in payments was linked to Phase 2 of the White Paper, he acknowledged the poverty that children in Direct Provision experience and committed to push for more resources to address this in his Budget 2022 negotiations with his colleagues in Government.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “All of us today know that Direct Provision is in dire need of change. Only last week, the Ombudsman for Children highlighted how Direct Provision has led to institutionalisation and demonstrated the child protection and welfare measures were not being fully implemented within Direct Provision. Thankfully, the White Paper – and the Minister himself today – mapped out a real step change in the Government’s approach and what I sense to be a commitment to prioritise a complete system-shift towards a non-profit, rights-based reception model. It is heartening that the Minister and Tusla has accepted all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations and started work on implementing them.
“Today is about ensuring that Government implements these ambitious changes we see on paper so they become truly life-changing for children and families seeking protection in our country. There are important changes that can be made immediately. We welcome that vulnerability assessments are now offered to all new applicants seeking protection although these should be extended to children already in the process. For many years, we have called for HIQA (the Health Information and Quality Authority) to take on inspection of the system and we welcome the Minister’s update that his Department is finalising the arrangements to get HIQA up and running as the independent inspectorate for all refugee accommodation. This is very welcome and we urge the Government to take all necessary steps to do this as a matter of priority. The focus on a human rights and children’s rights approach to our treatment of families seeking internal protection is long overdue and one very much welcomed by the Alliance, ensuring families with children can create homes in our communities.”
Discussions focused on the human impact of the proposals, particularly from the perspective of children and families who seek international protection in Ireland. Following on from the keynote address by Minister O’Gorman, the expert panel, chaired by the Editor of The Journal.ie, Sinéad O'Carroll, included:
• Carol Baxter, Assistant Secretary General, Justice, International Protection and Equality Division, DCEDIY
• Kate Duggan, Director of Services and Integration, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency
• John Lannon, CEO, Doras
• Katie Mannion, BCL (NUIG), LLM (Essex), Managing Solicitor of the Irish Refugee Council's Independent Law Centre
• Tanya Ward, CEO, Children's Rights Alliance.
In February, the Children’s Rights Alliance gave Government a C+ grade in this area – ‘a satisfactory attempt, but children still left wanting’. Reform of the international protection process and the Direct Provision reception system has been ongoing for several years, however the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic made clear the longstanding problems of institutional living and heightened the need for action.
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Carys Mair Thomas
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Notes to Editor
1. The Zoom webinar took place on Wednesday 5 May 2021 between 2pm and 3.30pm, with more than 100 people registered in total. If you would like a copy of the recording please get in touch with Carys.
2. The Children’s Rights Alliance has produced a short summary of the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision from a children and young person’s perspective, which can be accessed here.
3. The Government was awarded a C+ grade for its work in this area, and you can review the Alliance’s analysis on pp.163–182: https://www.childrensrights.ie/sites/default/files/Report-Card-23-Feb-20...
4. The Ombudsman for Children recently published its investigation into the Safety and Welfare of Children in Direct Provision in April 2021.
5. A number of case studies have been kindly provided by the Irish Refugee Council and Doras; listed below for your convenience. An excellent resource continues to be the Irish Refugee Council’s publication from August 2020: “Powerless” Experiences of Direct Provision During the Covid-19 Pandemic.
* Names and some other details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved
1. In March 2020, Zira* and her 18-month-old baby were living in direct provision accommodation when the Covid-19 pandemic started to take hold. Life became extremely challenging for Zira and other residents in the centre, as they were refused access to kitchen facilities, or even a microwave. This meant Zira could not prepare meals for her baby, instead relying on food provided by the centre, which was both inappropriate and insufficient. In addition, food was no longer permitted in residents’ rooms, and so all baby food, snacks and medication were confiscated by management. On top of this, Zira was unable to access drinking water.
After Zira contacted the Irish Refugee Council about her situation, they immediately brought these concerns to the attention of the Department of Justice, which resulted in improvements being made to the living conditions in the centre.
2. Rosa* arrived in Ireland in 2017. She is pregnant, expecting her third child. Rosa lives in a direct provision centre with her husband and their two children, who are aged two and four years. The direct provision centre is located in a rural area, with limited public transport options. Rosa suffers from anxiety and depression. Following the birth of her second child, she suffered from postnatal depression, and she is worried that she might experience post-natal depression again. Rosa reports that her mental health has deteriorated over time since her arrival in Ireland, which she attributes in part to delays in receiving a decision on her application for international protection and the overcrowded conditions in which she lives.
Like many others, COVID-19 has made Rosa feel increasingly isolated. As a pregnant woman living in an overcrowded and congregated setting, she is particularly vulnerable, but she is not considered a high priority in the vaccination programme. Doras, a Limerick-based migrant support and human rights organisation, continue to work with Rosa through outreach, psychosocial support and practical assistance accessing maternity healthcare. Rosa has also found support from other pregnant women and mothers living in the same direct provision centre who continue to be a source of strength and encouragement to each other.
3. An 18-month-old baby was effectively confined to the four walls of a hotel room from birth, until moved with their mother from Dublin to north east Ireland in January 2021. The baby was born in Ireland to a single mother, who had arrived seeking international protection from a country in Africa. Both moved between Balseskin Reception Centre and two hotels in Dublin (used for emergency accommodation), but both were extremely isolated because of the mother’s gynaecological and mental health problems, exacerbated by language barriers.
The baby had difficulty gaining weight. The mother was not permitted to prepare the baby’s food herself and had to use canteen facilities in the hotels. At the age of 15-months-old, a GP wrote to the Irish Refugee Council, outlining the need for self-catering accommodation as the child was failing to gain weight. The correlation between maternal depression and child nutrition are well-documented.
The Irish Refugee Council wrote to the relevant section of the Department of Justice requesting that the mother be accommodated in a location where she has friends from her own country to alleviate her isolation and depression, together with self-catering accommodation. After three months of advocacy on behalf of the mother and child, an offer of self-catering accommodation was made to them in January 2021.
4. A three-year-old child and their pregnant mother were living in Direct Provision in March 2020, when a midwife advised that they leave their shared residential accommodation because insufficient social distancing measures posed a Covid-19 risk to the mother. They had moved to live with the child’s grandmother in an overcrowded setting, but in the weeks before and after the birth of the baby, through the Irish Refugee Council they sought to re-access Direct Provision accommodation as a family unit with the father of the baby. Because he had left his accommodation centre to attend the birth of the baby, the father had then been excluded from his accommodation.
They were first offered accommodation separately, despite arguments made that it was important they be accommodated together to “maintain possible family unity” and for the baby to benefit from their father’s presence in the early weeks of their life. The Irish Refugee Council submitted a review request, and ultimately the family were accommodated together, moving in June to the Midlands.
Dr Carol Baxter is an Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth where she is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers and for refugee resettlement. She led the team which worked on the White Paper to End Direct Provision and to Establish a New International Protection Support Service. She is also responsible for gender equality, equality, disability coordination and integration. Her brief encompasses policy on equality for Travellers and Roma, human rights and LGBTI+ issues. Previously, she was Head of Civil Justice and Equality Policy at the Department of Justice and Equality where her role involved the development of policy on equality, migration and access to justice. She worked for the Equality Authority of Ireland from 2006 until 2013 where she advised public and private sector organisations on implementing systematic equality approaches.
Kate Duggan is the Director of Services and Integration in Tusla. Kate Duggan is National Director of Services & Integration in TUSLA, having commenced with the Agency in August 2020. Prior to that, she held a number of Senior Management positions in the HSE at local and Regional Level.
Within TUSLA, this role is the most Senior Operational role, reporting to the CEO, with responsibility and accountability for Regional Operational Services, Residential Services, Educational Support Services and Commissioned Services. The role also encompasses a specific focus on integration of Services, both internally within TUSLA and externally with partner agencies.
As part of the planned TUSLA Reform Agenda, the priority for the Agency and for the Director of Services & Integration over the next 3 years is the reform of structure, practice and culture to enable better outcomes for children and families right across Ireland.
Kate qualified as a Speech & Language Therapist in Trinity College Dublin and holds a Master in Public Administration (IPA), Diploma in Leadership, Diploma in Governance & Compliance, Diploma in Organisational Development & Change and Masters in Business Practice (Irish Management Institute).
John Lannon is CEO of Doras, a Limerick-based organisation that promotes and protects the rights of international protection applicants, refugees and migrants. He has been a human rights advocate for many years, and has worked as a university lecturer and a consultant with a range of international development and human rights organisations, primarily in the area of information management and technology use.
Katie Mannion BCL (NUIG), LLM (Essex) is the Managing Solicitor of the Irish Refugee Council's Independent Law Centre. She is responsible for delivering the Law Centre’s litigation and casework strategy and managing the Law Centre to ensure a high-quality service for all clients. Prior to joining the IRC, Katie was a solicitor with the Immigrant Council of Ireland Independent Law Centre, where she represented vulnerable migrants and wrote Child Migration Matters. Following qualification as a solicitor in 2010, Katie held legal research and policy positions at Amnesty International Ireland and with a children’s rights campaign, Stand Up for Children. She also holds a Certificate in Child Law from the Law Society of Ireland and diplomas in Legal French and Legal Irish. Katie is a Board member of the Children’s Rights Alliance.
Tanya Ward is the Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance since 2012. Previously, she was the Deputy Director at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) where she worked for eight years. She has also worked with the Irish Centre for Migration Studies, the Irish Refugee Council, the Curriculum Development Unit and the City of Dublin VEC. She is a former board member with Campaign for Children and played a major role in the children’s referendum of 2012. She was also a former Vice President for the International Federation of Human Rights (2008-2011). Tanya is currently the Chair of the National Advisory Council for the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People.
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About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter @ChildRightsIRL