Ireland : Number of Homeless Children Rises to Nearly 500

The number of homeless children not being cared for by any family member has risen to almost 500, according to the latest unpublished figures. The majority of 492 homeless children were in their mid-to-late teens. However, some 22 homeless children were under the age of 12, according to figures compiled by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Department of Health. Support groups for children yesterday expressed concern at the rise, which saw the overall number of homeless children grow from 476 in 2003 to 492 in 2004.

The highest number of homeless children was recorded in urban areas such as greater Dublin (210), followed by the south (132), the west (46) and the midwest (43). The lowest figures were in the northwest, where just five children were found to be homeless.

Trends showed the main reasons for a child becoming homeless were an emotional or behavioural problem (31 per cent), followed by the inability of parents to cope (21 per cent) and children abusing drugs or alcohol (11 per cent).

The overall figures represent homeless children on their own and do not include children in homeless families, such as those staying in State-funded B&B accommodation.

Health authorities typically respond to cases of homeless children by trying to place them with a family member, providing them with residential or hostel accommodation, outreach services or in foster placements.

Children’s charity Barnardos yesterday expressed concern at the rise in the number of homeless children. Norah Gibbons, the director of advocacy at Barnardos, said: “We’re very concerned about the increase, especially among the very young children. These children may be out on the street, without any adult protection, and are at a very high risk.”

The issue of youth homelessness has also been raised by the Children’s Rights Alliance, a coalition of 80 groups that has called for a greater Government focus on funding for family support to help prevent children from ending up homeless.

Health authorities point out that there has been a general downward trend in the number of homeless children in recent years and that local services respond appropriately to all cases of homelessness.

Research in this area suggests a high proportion of homeless children were previously in State care, while social workers say there is a strong link between youth and adult homelessness.

The Homeless Agency, the body responsible for planning homeless services in the Dublin area, is part-funding research into this area.