18-year-olds leave care with nowhere to go
Chai Brady and Hannah Harn
A group that supports vulnerable teenagers has accused Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone of ignoring the plight of young people who fall into homelessness after leaving State care.
Neil Forsyth of the Irish Aftercare Network told The Irish Catholic that he believes Ms Zappone is “blinkered” on the reality of the plight of young people who end up on the streets when they are forced to leave State care when they turn 18.
He claimed that the minister has refused to meet the group to discuss the concerns they have and to hear suggestions that could alleviate the crisis.
“I don’t know why she’s so blinkered. It is very complex and I’ve been wondering, is she afraid that she won’t have a proper handle? And if she comes in and talks to people like us that she’ll somehow be shown up?” Mr Forsyth asked.
The group is advocating for several policy changes to better assist young people leaving State care, including allowing young people to remain in care after the turn. The group says this is the norm in other jurisdictions and is pleading with the Government not to “expect any young person to leave [care] until secure accommodation has been sourced.
“Young people are still leaving care on their 18th birthday with nowhere to go except homeless services,” he warned.
According to official figures in 2014, 418 people aged 18-24 were homeless in Ireland, but by February of this year that had risen to 910 – a 118% increase.
Founder of Focus Ireland Sr Stanislaus Kennedy said that “too many of these come from the Irish care system. It is fundamentally wrong that so many vulnerable young people become homeless when they have been in care of the State.”
Focus Ireland figures from last year show that 15% of just over 100 care leavers the charity worked with in Dublin were homeless. “This is totally unacceptable. It’s even more shocking when you learn this can be prevented,” Sr Stan said.
“We do a lot of really positive work in partnership with the State and it protects many people but many others are still at risk.”
According to the Peter McVerry Trust across their adult services about 20% of people have a history of State care. However, this increases to 50% in specialist services the group runs for 18-24 year olds.
Fr McVerry told The Irish Catholic that “it’s one of the most important homelessness issues because young people leaving care, if they’re thrown into the adult homeless services, many of them will descend into criminal behaviour, drugs and prison. And the money spent on them while they were in care has been largely wasted.”
Mr Forsyth added that the Irish Aftercare Network has written to Minister Zappone on numerous occasions over the past few years. “We’ve sent, at her request, detailed submissions of all the issues we have and all the concerns we have about the problems with the policy and the legislation.
“And on each occasion, she’s turned us down, and she’s said she won’t meet us.”
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