Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs

Impact of Homelessness on Children: Discussion

Ms Niamh Lambe:

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for her passion and empathy because they are things we should never lose. We are seeing a lot of trauma. It is very important to acknowledge that when a child becomes homeless, it is his or her first traumatising experience. If we talk about adverse childhood experiences, children experience more and more trauma as they stay in homeless accommodation and the longer they stay, the more they will experience. The stories I hear on a weekly basis from case managers and child support workers include children having sleepless nights, the antisocial behaviour of other neighbours within the hubs and private emergency accommodation and children losing the ability to go out and play on the road, very basic things a child needs. For example, children are not able to go to the sitting room and play or have friends over on a play date because they have to be supervised when playing with their neighbours who are also homeless children. We are seeing suicidal ideation among very young children, although I do not want to sensationalise it. It is not among all children, but it is certainly present and increasing. There are, therefore, child protection and welfare concerns. We are seeing children missing school a lot because of the displacement to which I referred all over Dublin. I am not just talking about the children in hubs and private emergency accommodation; I have not even focused on self-accommodating, one-night-only, families who are on the periphery and even more marginalised.

On health, there is the question of what children are eating. For example, there are shared kitchens. I am a mother. If I was given a time slot to cook and do my washing, I would find it very difficult. It is very difficult for families to even maintain what they might or might not have had before they became homeless in terms of maintaining a family lifestyle for their children.

For children, the stigma is huge. They cannot have their friends over, which is bad enough, but they also cannot tell them why they cannot have them over.

They were living around the corner from their school friends one minute and the next they were living far away and also not in school as much. Those children may not even be turning up to school. There are, therefore, many layers of trauma involved. Children might also not be getting support if a parent has addiction issues as well. I do not want to sensationalise that aspect. Many families do not have to deal with addiction issues. They have fallen on hard times and become homeless. Children experience many layers of trauma daily and are retraumatised each day by their experience of homelessness.

The child support workers on the team work through that trauma with holistic play, one to one interaction and group work. They are the voices for the children and they listen to the children. It is important that those children have that support for themselves alone. They are exposed to very adult conversations a great deal. The eldest children in a family will often become additional primary care givers as well if mom or dad cannot cope. They become additional parents within the family. There are, therefore, layers upon layers of trauma involved. I hope that answers the Deputy's question.