Ombudsman For Children’s Office Housing Homplaint Shows Children’s Best Interests Not Considered

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) has published an investigation about children who were homeless for two years after leaving a domestic violence situation. This investigation revealed that decisions made based on incorrect information and the delay in developing national quality standards negatively impacted on the children involved. It also showed that the process the family had to go through to access housing was not in the children’s best interests.

Commenting on this case, OCO Director of Investigations, Nuala Ward said:

“In 2016 the OCO saw an increase in the number of housing complaints from 4% to 5%. This particular complaint highlights some of the issues that we are seeing more frequently; housing policy and practices which do not consider children’s best interests.

“In this case a family became homeless after they took the brave step of leaving a domestic violence situation. They were initially placed in a women’s refuge before living in homeless accommodation including B&Bs and hotels, which were not at all suitable for normal family living. They slept on blood stained mattresses, they were crammed into rooms with four sets of bunkbeds, they were placed in accommodation where they were exposed to the mother’s ex-partner or his friends, and like every other family living in B&Bs and hotels, the mother could not cook for her children or allow them to have friends over.

“Mistakes were made by Fingal County Council and while we cannot say for sure that these error delayed the family being housed, it did cause stress for the family and was not in the children’s best interests.

“This family was forced to go through an unnecessarily bureaucratic process to ensure their housing application could progress separately from the mother’s ex-partner who she had separated from due to domestic abuse. This process was a huge burden on the family, and again did not take into consideration the best interests of the children.

“We also found that the delay in developing national standards had a severely negative impact on the day to day lives of the children involved in this case. This is an issue that is affecting all families living in homeless accommodation.

“This is just one of the many complaints received by the OCO in relation to housing but it raises some real issues about the complete lack of consideration for children in housing policy and practises.”

Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children added:

“The housing complaints we receive show clearly that children are not seen as individuals who have rights that must be respected. Children are merely an add on to parents or guardians in housing policy and legislation.

“The issue of children living in homeless accommodation is not going away, in fact it is worse than ever with 2,777 children homeless as of the end of May. Children cannot be ignored in housing policy anymore.

“We must also face the reality of emergency accommodation. One year on from the launch of Rebuilding Ireland this issue has not been resolved and now family hubs are being introduced. Standards of accommodation must be provided to all families in emergency accommodation. These standards need to be monitored, implemented, and they should carry sanctions for non-compliance.

“The Government must re-double its effort to generate sufficient suitable social housing, as promised within the Rebuilding Ireland programme, so that emergency accommodation is just that – only used in an emergency and for the shortest possible length of time.”

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