This study is a broad-ranging exploration of the policies and practices in place for unaccompanied minors in Ireland. Unaccompanied minors and separated children, broadly defined as children below the age of eighteen, who are not in the care of/accompanied by a responsible adult, form a particularly vulnerable migrant group. While at EU-level there are indications that the number of unaccompanied minors moving to and within the region is increasing, in Ireland the trend is downward. For example, between 2000 and 2008 some 5,688 unaccompanied minors were referred to the specialist TUSLA Social Work Team for Separated Children Seeking Asylum (SWTSCSA) in Dublin, while in the period January 2009 – October 2014, 661 referrals took place. In addition to reduced flows, recent years have seen the introduction of a generally improved model of care for such children. Notwithstanding these improvements key challenges remain and these are discussed in detail in this report.
The study investigates: the availability of data on the group; the motivations and circumstances of unaccompanied minors seeking entry to Ireland; the policy and practices at play at the border and when claiming asylum; and the policies and practices in place on age assessment and guardianship. The absence of a clearly defined immigration status for unaccompanied minors is considered and the implications are examined. The application of the law and practices regarding reception and care of unaccompanied minors are also discussed in detail. In addition available information is provided on minors going missing from State care and the situation of unaccompanied minors who turn 18 years of age and therefore potentially ‘age-out’ of the system. The issue of return of unaccompanied minors is examined as one of several possible ‘durable solutions’.