Teenagers from outside of Ireland who don’t have a parent or guardian are being forced to move from foster care into the direct provision system after they turn 18.
The finding is one the key challenges identified by the ESRI as part of their report into the care of non-EU unaccompanied minors in Ireland.
An unaccompanied minor is a child who is not in the care of, or accompanied by, a responsible adult when presenting to the State, either through the gardaí or another agency.
Children in the company of a responsible adult, who may not necessarily be their parent or legal guardian are not designated as such.
The report found that there has been a significant improvement in the care of such children but point to several challenges that remain.
One of the challenges relates to the aftercare children receive when they turn 18, something report author Emma Quinn says has “huge regional variations”.
“The access (to aftercare) in general depends on a discretionary decision about vulnerability,” said Quinn, adding that it would be the opinion of many social workers and any child in such situations are vulnerable.
In Dublin, for example, there are initiatives in place so that minors in education may stay on in care until they complete their education.
“It’s important to note that there is no clear immigration status for unaccompanied minors,” says Quinn. “If they want to normalise their immigration status then they may have to make an asylum application.”
“It follows that they may then have to enter the direct provision system,” she adds.
The ESRI report found that there was a dramatic decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors going missing from State care.
In 2007, 41 children went missing from the care of the Dublin social work team of which 12 were found, while in 2013, four children went missing and two were found.
Much of this reduction is due to the ending of the hostel-based care for unaccompanied minors which was phased out over 2009 and 2010. The system was widely criticised for exposing already vulnerable children to harm.
The number of unaccompanied minors going missing from State care has also decreased in large part because the overall numbers presenting has declined sharply.
A non-EU child without a parent, guardian or responsible adult is now the responsibility of Tusla and are treated equally to Irish children. In practice this means that they are provided with foster care, supported lodgings or residential placements, most are also provided with a social worker.