05/09/2003

Children from mixed backgrounds need better support

Children with mixed-community backgrounds in Northern Ireland have specific needs which are not being met.

According to a report by the National Children’s Bureau, at least 17% of children in public care in Northern Ireland are from cross-community families, compared to just 6% of cross-community relationships in the population as a whole.

Despite this high proportion, there are few neutral or integrated support services for children and families. The report found that as a result the needs of the growing number of these families were being neglected.

Ruth Sinclair, Director of Research at NCB and co-author of Children from cross-community families in public care in Northern Ireland, said: “When a child comes into care, they might be placed in an area where housing, education and social groups are all aimed at one particular community. This makes it more difficult to ensure that cross-community children have a strong sense of their identity in terms of their religious or community backgrounds.

“Some of these children change their religious identity in accordance with their placement. In the context of Northern Ireland, this shift impacts on all areas of their lives, including social relationships and personal safety. It can also make it hard for these children to maintain contact with family and friends.

“We have found that in their urgency to find placements for children at risk, some social workers are reluctant to address sectarian issues. In many cases children’s religious identity is simply assumed rather than discussed. Social work staff need training to raise their awareness of the issues faced by cross-community children and support in finding ways to meet the needs of these children and their families.”

The report also revealed that 95% of children in Northern Ireland attend schools segregated by religion and 80% of housing is segregated.

Furthermore, the report concluded that such segregation meant children in mixed marriages often faced rejection, isolation, discrimination and intimidation.

(MB)

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