4.8 Current debates and reforms
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Forthcoming policy developments
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) have just adopted their Statement of Strategy that will run from 2021 until 2023. The main priorities of this Strategy include:
- Making sure that the Department has the right policies, legislation, resources and systems in
place to meet the particular needs of children, young people, adults, families and communities within a diverse and equal society.
- Supporting children and young people in active learning and participation.
- Looking at policies across Government through the lens of children, young people, families, communities and diverse groups.
- Working effectively across Government to promote the well-being of Irish society and developing policies that are responsive to its changing nature.
- Ensuring that the Department addresses inequalities and barriers which prevent migrants, refugees, applicants for international protection, LGBTI+ individuals, Travellers,
- Roma, disabled people, and women from participating fully in Irish society.
- Promoting the values of equality, respect for human rights and freedom from racism. xenophobia and discrimination. Critically evaluating the Departments performance, making necessary improvements and taking decisions informed by the best available evidence and research.
The recently established Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have taken on extra responsibilities and this expanded function presents great opportunities for growth and development.
The Strategic Goals of this Statement of Strategy include:
Strategic Goal 1: We will develop, implement and influence evidence informed policies and legislation that improve the outcomes for those we serve.
Strategic Goal 2: We will ensure the provision of a range of quality and sustainable services, underpineed by strategic investment, that meet the needs of individuals, families and communities.
Strategic Goal 3: We will help those who are vulnerable, including children, young people and at risk individuals, to overcome adverse circumstances and to achieve their full potential.
Strategic Goal 4: We will promote the development of a progressive, respectful and equal society, informed by the experiences of past generations and seek to respond to the needs of survivors.
Strategic Goal 5: We will work in partnership with individuals, families and communities across Government Departments, Public Bodies and Civil Society to achieve better outcomes.
Strategic Goal 6: We will maintain high standards of performance and corporate governance with engaged, motivated and supported staff.
The latest National Policy Framework for Children and Young People and the National Youth Strategy both expired at the end of 2020. According to the above Statement of Strategy, the government have plans to adopt a new National Youth Policy/Strategy but there are no official details as of yet.
Young people living in Direct Provision.
There is an ongoing debate surrounding young people living in Direct Provision in Ireland. Direct Provision is a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly whilst their claims for refugee status are being processed in Ireland.
The main issues debated include young people’s safety, the impact of Direct Provision on their mental health, the lack of space, food, education and the long waiting times to be processed.
In February 2021 the Irish Government published A White Paper to End Direct Provision and to Establish a New International Protection Support Service. The Government plans to replace the Direct Provision system with an international protection system over the next four years with a two-phased approach that plans to close all Direct Provision centres by the end of 2024.
Phase one is expected to take four months. In this phase, accommodation will be provided in reception and integration centres. Six reception and integration centres will be established and these will be owned by the State and run by not-for-profit organisations.
According to the plan, people including children who are applying for protection will be helped to integrate into Ireland from day one, with health, housing, education and employment supports at the core of the system. The necessary supports will be in place depending on the relevant needs of the person.
A health assessment will be provided for all new international protection applicants in phase one and there will be a focus on the needs of children who come to Ireland with their families.
Following phase one, applicants will be offered accommodation through several strands in phase two. The plan says after their first four months in Ireland, people whose protection claims are still being processed will move to accommodation in the community. All accommodation will be own-door, self-contained houses or apartments for families to provide privacy, agency and independence. Houses will be situated within the community, with supports to encourage interconnections especially for children and young people.
Minister of Children, Roderic O’Gorman said that the Government is taking a step towards a fairer, more compassionate Ireland.
Young people experiencing homelessness
There is a debate on the number of young people experiencing homelessness and living in emergency accommodation, linked to the ‘housing crisis’ in Ireland. The main topics debated include the negative impacts of homelessness on young people, e.g. the lack of stability, lack of space, mental health, education and lack of social housing.
The main actors involved in the debate are the Irish Government, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Ombudsman for Children, homeless charities, and the media.
Homelessness and Covid-19
Focus Ireland in their third volume of ‘Focus on Homelessness’ that was published in October 2020, represented data that covered the first Covid ‘lockdown’ period of homelessness. In March 2020 government measures were introduced to prevent people becoming homeless during the pandemic including a block of all evictions and a rent-freeze. In March 2020 when the stay at home order came into effect, there was a 12% decrease of individuals in emergency accommodation including young people.
The Homelessness Taskforce met with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD in April 2021 to discuss the proposal of the Youth Homelessness Strategy, in particular regarding Covid-19. The meeting also addressed the ongoing work that happens to protect homeless people at risk of Covid-19 as the vaccine strategy is rolled out.
The High Level Homelessness Taskforce is made up of representatives from the Peter McVerry Trust, Dublin Simon Community, Focus Ireland, Threshold, DePaul, CrossCare and the Dublin Region Homelessness Executive and meet regularly by videoconference.
Members of the Taskforce were asked to consider their current role in supporting young people experiencing homelessness, what services they are currently providing to young people in homeless services and what are the key challenges to address youth homelessness from a service provision viewpoint. This Taskforce want to reach realizable solutions and meet the specific needs of young people who end up experiencing homelessness but prevent young people from becoming homeless in the first place.
LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness
LGBTQI+ youth homelessness has been highlighted as an issue by homeless services. According to Focus Ireland, ‘youth services staff have reported high numbers of LGBTQI+ young people are becoming homeless as a direct consequence of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’
A Qualitative Study of LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness in Ireland published by Focus Ireland in September 2020 sought for the first time to make visible and give a voice to the specificities of LGBTIQ+ youth homelessness in Ireland.
The broad aim of this research included gathering information about
- the scale and triggers of LGBTQI+ youth homelessness in Ireland
- first-hand qualitative experiences of young LGBTQI+ people who found themselves homeless
- measures that might be adopted to combat LGBTQI+ youth homelessness in Ireland.
To achieve these aims the research aimed to:
- Explore the processes and ‘triggers’ that contribute to LGBTQI+ young people’s homelessness or housing instability in Ireland
- Understand LGBTQI+ young people’s experiences of frontline homeless and related support services in Ireland
- Examine the potential obstacles to housing of LGBTQI+ young people in Ireland
- Compare the experiences of LGBTQI+ homeless young people in Ireland with the findings of the international research evidence on this group
- Make recommendations on the development of policies and services to meet the needs of young, homeless LGBTQI+ young people in Ireland, including recommendations on measuring sexuality and/or sexual identity in homelessness statistics.
Some recommendations made
- The ‘Youth Homelessness Strategy’, committed to in the Programme for Government 2020, should include a ‘homelessness prevention’ pillar with specific reference to the particular risks and pathways into homelessness which LGBTQI+ youth are likely to experience. The Strategy should put in place educational, family and youth service supports to help prevent homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth.
- Tusla should increase funding to extend the lifetime of the existing Youth Homeless Prevention Mediations Service.
- The Strategy should also address the specific challenges which may face LGBTQI children in foster care and residential and review and build on the valuable work already conducted by Tusla to ensure that these challenges are addressed.
- The strategy should ensure that specialist support, information and training is available to teachers and youth workers to enhance their interaction with and support for LGBTQI+ youth.
- Focus Ireland should work with the Homeless Network and LGBTQI+ organisations to develop an awareness raising programme that highlights the presence and specific needs of young LGBTQI+ people including appropriate language and gender pronouns.
LGBTQI+ Young People
The National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy is running from 2019 until 2021. This Strategy was the world’s first National LGBTI+ Youth Strategy and is essential in identifying and addressing issues that may prevent LGBTQI+ young people from enjoying full equality in practice in Irish society.
The 2019 School Climate Survey conducted by BeLong To Youth Services identified a number of issues affecting LGBTQI+ young people. These included anti-LGBTQI+ bullying, homophobic remarks, discrimination, harassment and assault. Impacts on LGBTQI+ young people included absenteeism, lack of sense of belonging, isolation and stigmatisation.
Solutions proposed to address these issues include:
- Safe and supportive schools with inclusive staff
- Representation of LGBTQI+ identities in the curriculum
- Explicit anti-bullying policies to reduce levels of anti-LGBTQI+ bullying
- A student body with a higher sense of belonging and better educational outcomes.
Research published by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and the University of Limerick (UL) has highlighted the educational inequalities transgender and gender diverse youth face in school settings.
The Report highlights:
- How transgender and gender diverse youth in Ireland feel marginalised within post-primary schools, which inhibits them coming out and affects their academic attainment.
- The majority of transgender and gender diverse youth disclosed their gender identity to facilitate their transition and this gave them a sense of acceptance and that their best interests were being recognised. However- some transgender and gender diverse young people disclosed their gender identity to a member of school staff who invalidated their gender identity and obstructed their transition, which left them feeling discriminated against because of their gender identity.
- The majority of transgender and gender diverse youth reported that they transitioned from their birth-assigned sex to their self-determined gender identity while attending post-primary school.
- Key transition challenges encountered by transgender and gender diverse youth included: misnaming and misgendering, restrictive uniforms, bathroom accessibility, staff prejudice, peer bullying, barriers to sports and a lack of support.
A review of the Gender Recognition Act was commissioned recently by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This review concluded that children of 16 and 17 years of age will be able to self-declare if they wish to be recognised as a different gender provided, they have the support of their parents. If they do not, they will have recourse to third-party mediation on a voluntary basis. This will happen through the services of the family mediation service of the Legal Aid Board. This review also concluded that there will be no changes for the arrangements of children under 16.
LGBTQI+ Young People, Mental Health and Covid-19
The mental health of LGBTQI+ young people in Ireland has plummeted over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey conducted by BeLonG To Youth Services of more than 3000 young people found that 97% of LGBTQI+ young people are struggling with anxiety, stress or depression.
The original findings in 2020 found that LGBTI+ youths were two times as likely to self-harm, three times as likely to experience suicidal ideation, and four times as likely to experience suicide and depression, compared to their non-LGBTI+ friends.
In 2021, follow-up research showed that these figures worsened. The study found that 63% of LGBTI+ young people are struggling with suicide ideation compared to 2020’s 55%. Meanwhile, the number of LGBTI+ young people struggling with self-harm increased from 45% to 50% in one year.
Overall, 56% of LGBTI+ young people surveyed in 2021 said they experienced feelings of unacceptance in their home environment, including family rejection, feeling unaccepted, and a denial of identity.
Young people and Covid-19, Education
Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, young people were not allowed to attend school or University for extended periods of time. With most schools taking up virtual education, this led to a lot of difficulties for young people.
The public health measures that were put in place in Ireland as a response to the Covid19 pandemic including the closing of all schools, the requirement for all to physically distance and the requirement to largely stay at home, have resulted in additional challenges for all, and for some more than others. These include adjusting to the challenge of living for large parts of the day with the whole family in a single space, while trying to maintain usual daily activities (work for parents and education for children and young people), within the context of restrictions on movement and restrictions on access to usual support and social networks
There were barriers to the accessibility of educational resources such as laptops due to financial difficulties and access was cut off to key protective factors of young people’s mental health including the school support structure, friendships, and physical activity. Covid-19 enabled increased difficulties within family relationships and life at home in general. Leaving Certificate students suffered at the hands of the pandemic regarding the disrupted education they faced when they were preparing for a high-stakes examination and faced increased uncertainty relating to revised examination arrangements.
Young people, Covid-19 and Mental Health
A report published in 2020 by the DCEDIY found that the Covid-19 pandemic has had negative effects on young people’s health and wellbeing, especially amongst marginalized groups.
The report, based on the findings of research undertaken by SpunOut and the Department’s Youth Advisory Group, shows how young people struggled with being separated from their friends, and faced significant mental health impacts because of Covid-19 and the restrictions.
The report found that:
- Missing friends was most cited as a challenge faced during Covid-19 (cited by 35% of respondents), followed by impact on health (20%), school/college problems (18%), and cabin fever (16%)
- Young people’s feelings towards the future were mixed. Over one third of respondents reported optimism for the future. However, negative feelings such as anxiety, uncertainty, pessimism and fear were also common
- Young people mentioned a range of positives that they wished to take forward, including maintaining a healthy lifestyle, self-care, quality family time and relief from pressure of commutes and school or college. However, almost one in ten respondents were unable to name any positives.
People aged 18 to 29 years of age reported significantly greater mental health issues during the pandemic than those aged 50 and above, with females reporting significantly poorer mental health during the pandemic than males. Young adults also reported significantly higher levels of loneliness, less tolerance of uncertainty and lower perceived control over anxiety related events. Furthermore, they tended to spend significantly more time on social media than older adults.
Time spent on social media was a strong predictor of mental health during the pandemic. People who spent more time on social media, particularly more than 4 hours per day, reported significantly poorer mental health.
Young people appear to attribute more pressure to attaining the standards set by the content they consume through social media compared to older people. For example, 18- to 29-year-olds reported significantly greater perceived pressure from social media to exercise during the lockdown phases than any other age group.
The greater potential for comparison through age-related similarities, combined with increased exposure to social media content that invites self-comparison and self-judgement, could be the driving force behind the greater mental health difficulties experienced by younger people during the pandemic. Furthermore, the consistent comparison with others through social media may prompt unattainable standards in other areas of life and create a constant feeling of pressure to reach a perceived social ideal.
Another factor contributing to the poor youth mental health observed in this study is their lower tolerance of uncertainty. Young people have experienced a greater proportion of their lives trying to live with the virus. Assuming adult life begins at 18, an Irish 21-year-old has spent about 16% of their adult life having to consider the implications of Covid-19 and public health measures, whereas a 60-year-old has spent about 1% of their adult life dealing with the restrictions imposed by the virus.
Youth Unemployment and Covid-19
As of July 2021, 45% of young people in Ireland are unemployed- with 90,000 people who are under the age of 25 claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). The Economic and Social Research Institute found that younger workers were the hardest hit by Covid-19 and were subjected to redundancies and lay-offs. Young people account for 11.7% of the workforce but total 22% of all PUP claims. The most recent statistics highlight how 26,000 more young people are signing on the Live Register for unemployment benefits. Economic and Social Research Institute Economist Dr Barra Roantree notes that by the end of April 2020, about half of workers aged 18-24 had lost their jobs, more than double the percentage for older employees.
The National Youth Council of Ireland has called for a €190 million package of measures for education, training, apprenticeships and job subsidies for employers to address the unprecedented surge in youth unemployment. Worryingly, despite the economy reopening as of July 2021, under 25s are moving back into work slower than older age groups.