Ahead of General Election 2020, the Chief Executive of Extern, Ireland’s leading social justice charity, is calling on political parties to “urgently wake up” and take action in order to prevent thousands of children being unnecessarily taken into care.

The call by Charlie Mack, CEO of Extern, is one of three election asks by the charity. Extern is calling for parties to ensure nationwide access to life-changing early intervention and crisis services for vulnerable families and children. These services have been proven to help keep families together and prevent children from entering the care system, but are currently only available in selected regions. They also result in significant savings to the public purse.

Announcing the asks at Extern’s Cherry Orchard Service, which provides support to families and children in crisis in Dublin South Central, and which recently won an “Investing in Children Membership Award, Mr Mack said: “The rising numbers of children being referred to TUSLA, the child and family agency, should be a wakeup call to our political representatives. We need better and earlier community intervention to support families in crisis and prevent children being taken into care. Residential care costs as much as €312k, annually, per child, in comparison, early intervention programmes can be provided at a fraction of this cost, for example Extern’s Janus programme [€4,620], which supports children in their community. ”

“Organisations, like Extern, work in partnership with TUSLA to provide intensive services that have life-saving and life-changing impacts, but this is currently only available in certain constituencies. It urgently needs to be made available nationally and we need to be supported in being able to do this. Every child in the country deserves access to the same life-changing services. In Ireland in 2020, it shouldn’t be down to which area they live in. We want to keep children in the community and out of institutional care. Not only does this result in significantly better lifetime outcomes for the children and families involved, this work also results in significant savings for the public purse.”

“Extern is urging all political parties and their candidates to pledge support for Extern’s three asks which aim to transform the lives of marginalised and vulnerable families and young people in crisis across Ireland.”

Extern’s GE2020 three asks are:

  • Support young people and families in crisis by providing nationwide access to an intensive service [a 24/7 wraparound   support service focusing on strengthening family unity, keeping children in their home and address the causes of the crisis
  • Divert children and young people away from crime and risky behaviour
  • Sustainable funding for community programmes in marginalised communities

As one of Ireland’s largest charities, Extern supports over 20,000 people each year across 27 counties throughout Ireland. It provides life-changing supports to families and young people in crisis, children at risk of entry into care or the justice system, community support for adults with learning disabilities, and health care support to the Traveller Community [full details below].

Extern’s second ask “divert children and young people away from crime and risky behaviour” highlights the need to think better about how the state responds to young people in and around criminal justice agencies.

Mr Mack added: “Many young people engage in risk-taking, it’s part of growing up; unfortunately, however, some will become involved in more serious, and dangerous behavior. How we, societally, respond is key and knee-jerk policy is poor policy. Extern’s services which are evidence-led, have transformed lives. Our Bail Supervision Scheme, for example, is proven to have considerably better success rates of preventing young people from reoffending compared to detention. We are addressing the behavioural causes, in a systemic way with partnership with family and community to create lasting change.”

Extern’s third ask “sustainable funding for community programmes in marginalised communities” is key to a sustainable future of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland. There is a need for state funding to be multi-annual and that it covers all project running costs.

In relation to funding of the sector Mr Mack said: “Currently we are having to apply annually to many of the state agencies to fund our life-saving services. In order for these projects to be sustainable we are joining with others in the community and voluntary sector in asking the state to provide multi-annual funding that covers the true cost of services.”

Extern’s General Election 2020 asks are available here