Ballymun, Dublin: HSE Is “Beyond Reform” Says Children’s Rights Campaigner Debbie Lamb

13 Feb

“We have to keep moving the bottom line up, until the needs of children are adequately met. The real pain of being marginalised is the pain of feeling that you are of no value, that nobody wants you and nobody cares, and that is far deeper and far more painful than being hungry, cold or not having a bed for the night“.

Fr Peter McVerry. S. J.

According to Debbie Lamb (breaking the silence campaigner). “The HSE is beyond reform and the development of a total new care system for children and vulnerable young adults is urgently required if more and more ’AT RISK’ children are to survive the crisis situations which have arisen in their own homes, which is currently driving them from the devil (at home) into the deep blue sea, when they seek a care placement with the HSE“.

Outlining the tragic situation that led to the deaths of their relatives – Lynda Lamb and Danny Talbot, during a first public meeting held in DAYS Hotel in Dublin’s Ballymun, aimed at building an effective campaign around their (Breaking the Silence) campaign for homeless, distressed and abandoned children and young adults.

Debbie and Donna Lamb outlined to the meeting the shocking details of the situation that confronts homeless children on the Board-Walk and the streets of Dublin each day.

Qualified research data, sourced and used in the production of this article and previously published by (this author) fully supports the findings and details of the data collected by campaigners Debbie, Donna and Norma Roach with regard to the terrible plight of vulnerable children and young adults that are currently homeless and distressed on the streets of our capital city.

Norma Roach a former HSE childcare social worker outlined to a (BREAKING the SILENCE CAMPAIGN) meeting how as a child care social worker with the HSE that she was prevented by her superiors from writing out factual reports regarding the condition and needs and wants of children on her caseload, who were in (current) crisis situations and required an emergency response from the HSE childcare service to prevent an even further rapid deterioration in their situations, which included homelessness, exposure to drug abuse and addiction to alcohol in addition to other street drugs.

Other dangers which faced the homeless and vulnerable children, included prostitution and becoming involved in various types of street crime, often under the direction of older and more streetwise youths who in their own turns had emerged from similar situations in the recent past and were now directing eleven and twelve year olds, (newly arrived into a streetscape existence) into lived of alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution and other forms of street crime as a means of survival on the streets of Dublin City.

Children who were only a short time before living within the safety of their homes and with their families, because of some emergency situation that has arisen at home, are now effectively thrown onto the streets as fodder for every criminal and deviant that trawls the streets of any city in search of the most vulnerable and youngest of the homeless children who in turn have been led to believe that the State has a childcare system in place which will protect them from harm and cater for their needs and wants.

Like in the tragic cases of Danny Talbot and Lynda Lamb, similarly, now other young children of twelve years of age and under are being faced with a life of exploitation, abuse, addiction, prostitution and other street crime on Dublin’s City streets, because the State and its Health Care provider the HSE – is dysfunctional and under resourced and is unable to provide even the most basic of childcare to children who are in crisis.



Child Homeless Service Increases Risks To Children:


By J. P. Anderson: First Published On 26/03/2007.

Recent research, by Mayock and Vekic (2006)1 presents data from the first phase of a two-phase longitudinal cohort study of young homeless people living in the Dublin metropolitan area.

The research focused on young people living in Dublin for at least six months prior to the commencement of the study.

The study used ’life history’ interviews with 40 young people recruited through homeless services and street settings.

In qualitative research when this method is used, interviewees are invited to tell their ’life stories’, then the researcher invites them to explore in depth significant life events that are broadly related to the aims of the research.

The aim of this technique is to uncover as far as possible the interviewees’ interpretations of significant life events and to allow them to elaborate on issues that may not have figured in the initial research aims but nonetheless are viewed as relevant to the research.

The interviews were conducted between September 2004 and February 2005.

Fifty per cent of the cohort was aged between 15 and 17 years.

Nineteen of the cohort reported becoming homeless initially at the age of 14 or younger, while 12 initially became homeless at age 15.

This would suggest that the early to mid-teen years is a period of great risk for becoming homeless.

The research identified three broad pathways into homelessness for the study cohort. The authors caution against interpreting these pathways as ‘causes of homelessness’, suggesting that they be viewed rather as key circumstances and experiences that appeared to push the young people towards homelessness.

Household instability and family conflict of varying degrees figured largely in the experience of most of these young people from an early age.

For example, parental discord and/or marital breakdown, the presence of a step-parent and parental alcohol and drug abuse figured prominently in the events leading to that initial experience of homelessness.

Forty per cent of the cohort reported a history of state care of varied duration, moving between foster homes, residential care placements or residential placement homes.

Their accounts of these experiences suggest that they did not integrate and, according to the authors, this instability produced exceptional vulnerability and deep resentment about their separation from parents and/or siblings.

Negative peer association and problem behaviour were reported by some of the young people as contributing to poor relations with family and caregivers.

However, as the authors suggest, [this} behaviour cannot be divorced from a range other home based problems such as family illness, bereavement, conflict between parents or alcohol abuse by a parent.

At the time of interview, only eight of the cohort did not use illicit drugs, with the average age of first drug use being 11.5 years for the males and 13 years for females. Fifty per cent of the cohort reported having used heroin, with almost all reporting their heroin use as problematic to the point of dependency.

The majority of those who used heroin had first experimented with it after they became homeless.

The vast majority of the young people in this research had used or were using the Out Of Hours Service (OHS) in the city centre.

This crisis service was set up to respond to the accommodation and care needs of homeless youth aged 18 years or under.

Young people can only access the service by going to a Garda station after 8pm.

It is then the duty of the Gardai to contact the OHS social work team, who will determine where to place the young person in the emergency service if returning to the (their own) home is not an option.

This means that these young people continue to move between city-centre hostels and become particularly vulnerable to exposure to alcohol and drug use, criminal activity and intimidation and bullying.

According to the authors, ‘this initial period of contact with the city centre homeless “scene” was a common point of initiation into a whole range of risky behaviours and, within a relatively short period of time, a large number had become immersed in the ‘street-based social networks’ (street sub-culture).

For example, when exposed to the experience of homelessness over an extended period, young people became heavily involved in using drugs and committing crime on a daily basis to finance their drug use.

According to the authors, this led to a process of ‘acculturation’ into the street scene where they ‘learned the street competencies they need to survive by becoming embedded in social networks of homeless youths.

However, some of the cohort who manage to avoid the transient nature of hostel life and remained in the one place for an extended period of time were able to escape the street homeless scene, avoid drug use and attend school.

This study provides a useful sociological insight into the lived experiences of young homeless people. The findings of this first phase, although in strict interpretative terms (are) limited to his cohort, requires attention from various state agencies charged with preventing homelessness.

Pillinger recommends this approach in the strategy on preventing homelessness.

Supported measures need to be put in place at local level, particularly in the Dublin suburbs, to prevent young homeless people congregating in the city centre and becoming involved in drug use and criminal behaviour.

The advantages of a decentralised approach to homelessness in Dublin is that these young people are accommodated closer to their own homes, can continue contact with their families and can remain in school.

(Source: Martin Keane: Drug-net -Ireland. Issue 21. Spring 2007: Newsletter of the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit. Health Research Board).

Related Article:



Looking At the Structures in Our Society with Fr Peter McVerry S. J. (2001):

First published on: 01/02/2007:

“In 1974, the Jesuits opened a small community in Dublin’s Summerhill district, (then a very badly run down slum area within Dublin’s north-inner-city), and I volunteered to join that community.

Living in Summerhill challenged everything that I ever understood or believed in. It challenged my values, my attitudes to society, the theology that I had been learning; it challenged my notion of God.

It totally changed me because I saw these wonderful kids, some of them very talented, very gifted, very intelligent, and heading straight towards jail.

What they needed to develop their talents didn’t exist, and as soon as they got into trouble, society came down on them like a ton of bricks. I began to question, what’s going on in our society? To look at the structures in our society much more critically,

And so, from being a person who would have felt that we had a great education system, a great housing system, a good community to live in.

I began to see that there was something fundamentally wrong with the structures that we have created and the society that we live in; –

It is fundamentally unfair and unjust.

My image of the Kingdom of God is that, we will all be equally loved, equally cared for, no one will be treated as second class, no one will be marginalised, unwanted or uncared for.

There will be that equality of relationships in the Kingdom of God – equally loved and cared for. Certainly, it is the churches theology that here on earth we are building that Kingdom of God, and we are striving to create a society where those inequalities don’t exist. I think that is our reason for being on this earth.

We are here to try and take some of the pain off peoples shoulders, to try giving people a better, happier and more fulfilled life. I would hope that the rest of my life would be spent in some way trying to take the pain away from people and to work towards a more just society.

In our daily lives we come across people who are marginalised and who are excluded – travellers, homeless, poor people, and for me the important thing is giving those people back their human dignity.

The real pain of being marginalised is the pain of feeling that you are of no value, that nobody wants you and nobody cares, and that is far deeper and far more painful than being hungry, cold or not having a bed for the night.

So, I think at one level, one thing that we can do is when we meet people who we know are excluded, that we treat them with dignity. –

We stop and have a word with somebody who is homeless and is begging on the streets, or with a traveller, and treat them as people and by doing so giving them back their dignity as persons.

On a second level, we really need to look at what is happening in our society, and we need to put demands on political parties, on governments to produce policies-that are socially inclusive and that will give people who are currently on the margins a better quality of life in our society. …

The Government Ministers award themselves a €250 a week increase, and give €10 a week to the unemployed. …

To me while there are still homeless people on the streets, while there are still drug users who must wait on long waiting lists before getting on a drug treatment programme, while you still have ‘travellers’ living on the side of the road, you have an unfair and unjust society, and I just feel that money to spare ought to be spent on creating a more balanced and just society.

If I had €60m to address the problem, you would not see a homeless child this side of the year 2020.

Homelessness has been a social problem that has been neglected for decades.

It affects both adults and children, and we are now trying to catch up.

When I started in the 1970s you could count the number of homeless children on the fingers of one hand, it was not a social problem.

However, the numbers have escalated ever since, and the services to meet that need have not in any way kept pace with the demand.

So now, we are in a situation – where in the last few years there has been serious concern, particularly about homeless children, but we are trying to catch up and make up for the-decades of neglect, in ‘now’ attempting to deal with the problem.

Child homelessness arises from a breakdown in relationships with one or both parents. There could be a lot of reasons for that.

Some very obvious reasons – alcoholic parents, violent fathers, sexual abuse in homes or a breakdown in communications.

Now, in the past, when family relationships broke down, children tended to go and live with their granny or married sister, who lived on the next street, or perhaps the child lived with a neighbour, whom they had known all of their lives.

Those were the days when extended families lived close by, when communities were communities and everyone knew one-another.

Today, if a young person leaves home, their extended family might live on the other side of Dublin and the young person might only see them around Christmas time, (meaning that, the ‘nuclear family’ would be strangers).

The whole community spirit has broken down, so neighbours now quite frequently don’t want to know each other, and that option-of living with a neighbour may no longer exist. So, I think that children, today, are forced to rely on the state services, much more than they were in the past.

The stresses of life today are much greater than in the past, which creates a whole range of social problems, including homelessness.

With regards to homeless children, we are aware that 400 to500 children become homeless each year.

Now, many of them get a service and some get a very good service, they will be placed in foster homes, in hostels or enabled to go back home.

But there is a ’hard core’. I estimate that between 50 and 100 children-every night are sleeping rough. – No research has been done.

In terms of breakdown between the sexes, – for homeless children it is 50/50, and that is a huge change. …We need to decide that a child living on the streets is totally unacceptable in this modern day and age.

The bottom line for our policy makers is that a range of services should be provided so that, no child should have to live on the streets.

Basically, that means a night shelter where they are guaranteed a bed, a shower, a meal, and medical attention.

Now, that is not the answer to the child’s problems regarding homelessness, but it is the bottom line. –

We have to keep moving the bottom line up, until the needs of children are adequately met.

I am not aware of any government plan to deal with homeless children, and that is where the problem arises.

It is not so much a lack of resources, as the Minister has repeatedly stated that money is not the problem. The problem lies in the structures.

The Simon Community estimate that there are 10,000 homeless adults in Ireland. In Dublin’s city centre, a recent survey found that 220 homeless people were sleeping rough, which was a greater number than in five major cities in the UK put together.

It seems to me, there are three problems. –

Social workers on the ground, who are in the front line in dealing with the homeless are so overworked that they have to prioritise.

Secondly, within the health boards / HSE there are too many middle-managers and whole layers of decision-making before anything happens. There is adequate anecdotal evidence to suggest that nobody is listening to anybody else underneath them.

Certainly, social workers feel that they are not either being heard or listened to. So the decisions are being made by people sitting behind desks, who have very little knowledge or experience of what the situation is like on the ground, and who are not listening to the people on the ground.

Thirdly, at the top level you have three Government Ministers-Education, Health and Justice – all of whom have some responsibility for children, so that, a child in the space of a single morning could become the responsibility of each minister in turn. There should be one Minister for Children, responsible for all aspects of a child’s life, and the buck stops there.

I think that the system is inadequate and incapable of dealing with the problem of homeless children. You can throw all the money in the world at the problem, but unless the structural problems are dealt with, the problem will not be resolved.

An independent board should be established to tackle young homelessness and the responsibility removed from the health boards, as the current structures are inadequate.

Even a drug-pusher has a right to have somewhere to live, and they should not be excluded.

I think the problem arises when you have a shortage of services and facilities, so that every homeless person gets channelled into the same hostel.

For example, there is only one emergency hostel for homeless adults in Dublin, which is Cedar House, run by the Salvation Army, and the service is based on a ‘first come-first served’ basis. So, yes, a situation arises where a vulnerable 18 year-old could be sleeping next to a drug addict or somebody with a long and/or violent criminal history, and that is a totally undesirable situation.

The solution to that is to have adequate services for homeless people, so that, you can assess the needs of each individual homeless person, and channel them to the most appropriate accommodation.

I do think that you need a place for homeless-drug-users and a separate place for people who are not drug users.

A child grows up in a family and within a community. If children cannot live in their own family, I think it is preferable that they should grow up, if possible in someone else’s family, and retain that sense of family.

Many children do that successfully in foster homes. I think that they should also be kept in the community in which they have grown up-that’s where their friends are, their schools are, the youth club which they attend and their support structure is.

At the moment many children who leave home, also have to leave their community, – this is very unfair and unhelpful to the child. It is vitally important that we provide services in the areas where they come from.

(*Authors note: Two-thirds of those employed by service providers to homeless people, work part-time).

(Source: Peter McVerry interview*

Edited extracts; reproduced by courtesy of Pioneer magazine).


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