Just a 10 year old Poor Kid from a Broken Home

2002

In April this year, one of the most heart breaking stories found its way into the national media. It concerned a 10 year old boy who was sleeping rough. The boy was filthy, had untreated scabies and wouldn’t go to school because the other children laughed at him as he was smelling. Some nights when he wasn’t sleeping on the street, he stayed with his alcoholic uncle and his uncle’s alcoholic friends. There were concerns about possible sexual abuse.

The boy was summoned, on a Friday, to appear in the Children’s Court for non-attendance at school. His social worker accompanied him. When the judge enquired where the child was going to stay over the weekend, his social worker explained that, because there were no places available, she had been instructed by the Health Board not to take the child into care. The child would have to continue sleeping rough. The judge – a wonderful, caring person – requested the child’s solicitor to go immediately to the High Court and get a court order requiring the child to be given suitable care. The High Court ordered that the child be given emergency accommodation over the weekend and the case was to be returned to the High Court on the Monday. On the Monday, the Health Board informed the High Court that a foster placement had been found for the boy where he could remain until a permanent residential place became available.

Good news, bad news. The good news is that the child was found somewhere safe to live. Accommodation was found for the boy. Possibly, some Health Board official was working till midnight on the Friday, I don’t know; possibly some arms were twisted, possibly some financial incentives were offered, I don’t know. But somewhere for the boy to live was found, the very same day that the boy went to the High Court.

The bad news is that the system had failed. A 10 year old boy needed somewhere to live; somewhere to live was, eventually, found. But the system could not match the two. It required an order from a High Court Judge to get action. Here we had a system failure.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Each child on the street is a result of a system failure; each child placed in inappropriate accommodation is a result of a system failure. And there are more children on the streets than even before. The system is a combination of statutory and voluntary services; the statutory services depend very heavily on the voluntary services for residential and day services for homeless young people and the voluntary services depend on the statutory services for funding, placement of children and training of staff. The system is a complex interaction between the two. However, the Health Boards have the responsibility of ensuring that the system works. A system failure, even if the voluntary services are largely responsible, ought to be investigated and put right by the Health Board.

Sometimes system failures are put right. Imagine if the Health Board auditors had discovered €1 million missing from the accounts. Imagine if someone had defrauded the money, or it had just slipped out of the system over a period of a year or two, without being detected. Another system failure. The system which was meant to prevent the possibility of this happening had failed. But this time there would be an outcry; the media would call it a scandal; questions would be asked in the Dail; outside consultants would be brought in to report on how the system failed; the report would be published to re-assure the public that their taxes were not going to be squandered in the future; maybe some people with responsibility for the system failure would be sacked. Some system failures are put right.

But this system failure wasn’t €1 million going missing – this was just a 10 year old poor kid from a broken home.
 

Posted in Homelessness

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