Thursday, 13 December 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh – Priority Questions
Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children
16. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the findings of a report by the European Migration Network, published by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which found that only a small proportion of minors have secured an immigration status and that this was due to delays making applications on behalf of minors by social workers in Tusla; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52433/18]
The question relates to the findings of a report by the European Migration Network, published by the ESRI, which found that only a small proportion of minors have secured an immigration status and that this was due to delays by Tusla social workers in making the minors' applications. Does the Minister have concerns about this, and has she spoken to Tusla since the report's publication?
I thank the Deputy tor his question, which relates to a report published on 4 December on the important subject of separated children seeking asylum. I wish to take this opportunity to note that children who arrive with their families and seek asylum remain in the care and custody of their parents.
It is also worth noting that some of the referrals made to Tusla in respect of separated children seeking asylum are found to relate either to young people over the age of 18 or to those who are reunited with a parent or guardian who is already in the country. As the Deputy knows, where a young person is under 18, they are taken into the care of Tusla.
The Tusla separated children seeking asylum team has developed an effective model of working with the affected children and young people to identify the supports they need. I am satisfied that the care provided to separated children seeking asylum is of a high standard and equal to that provided to other children in care. The report notes specifically that the standard of assessment and the provision of services provided to separated children in Ireland compare favourably to those provided in many European jurisdictions.
All separated children seeking asylum are assessed by a social worker from the specialist team working with these children on the day of their referral arrival and are placed in the care of Tusla. The immigration arrangements of young asylum seekers, mainly in the age group of 15 to 17 years, are considered in the broader, holistic context of the child's needs.
Many of these children may have high levels of vulnerability and have experienced trauma. Many face problems and challenges on issues including separation and bereavement from family and friends, social isolation, language barriers, emotional and mental health problems, discrimination and racism. In addition, they must live with the anxiety brought on by their possible removal from the country or uncertainty as to their future.
Based on a clinical decision approach, they may be deemed to need a period of stability and care before being supported in making their application for residency.
The new single procedures that have been put in place in the wake of the International Protection Act have seen significant improvements in waiting times for young people, especially those in aftercare. Of the 93 aftercare cases currently open to Tusla's team for separated children's aftercare service, 70 have some form of residency permission.
We know there is some good care for the kids under 18 years of age. So far this year, however, 105 children have arrived in Ireland seeking asylum status without a parent or guardian, yet to date this year only 15 have been granted international protection, while last year only 11 children were granted protection. These are low figures. I remind the Minister of some of the contents of the report. It found that although Tusla is responsible for making an application on behalf of an unaccompanied minor, some social workers delay submitting applications for reasons including the view that an application is not in the child's best interest and that he or she may not be deemed ready for international protection, as well as the fear that negative decisions might lead to the child going missing. The report makes the point that published research has noted that the decision to delay an application may negatively impact a minor's entitlements, including family reunification and access to employment, education, aftercare services and other supports.
I am aware of that and of what the report stated. The model Tusla has developed is effectively providing, in Tusla's belief, supports that may be necessary before the application is made. Other jurisdictions sometimes do not have social workers involved in such support. Some of these children have come through horrible experiences, and at times a social worker may see fit to ensure that the child or young person is provided with counselling or other mental health supports in advance of the rigorous application process. The social worker may believe it would be unwise and not in the child's best interest to put him or her through numerous interviews and applications while in a vulnerable state. Such actions could cause undue trauma to the child. I emphasise this rigorous application process. Is the decision to delay wrong then? Does it necessarily have a negative impact? The report states that the research has noted that the decision to delay an application may have a negative impact but that this is not necessarily so.
We know the children cannot get their status before the age of 18. Family reunification is gone; they are generally going into direct provision. We are not saying that everything about the system is wrong, but there are serious problems with it. We know a number of young lads who are waiting for interviews. More resources are probably required. We know there are some good things happening. Senator Colette Kelleher's Bill that was discussed here last Thursday night seeks to strengthen the facility and the mechanism for family reunification, but the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said the Government would not grant it a money message. There must be a more positive approach.
I am deeply appreciative of the Deputy's raising this issue and I acknowledge the incredible contribution he and his colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, have made regarding the concerns of unaccompanied minors who are separated from their families and the changes that have been brought about as a result of their work. I think a process is in place whereby although there may be delays, they do not necessarily negatively impact the child in light of the potential vulnerable situations in which they find themselves and that they are receiving very good care in this context.