“I find it deeply distressing to hear about these young people who have gone missing. The State has a duty to protect every child in its care.
“Separated children coming to Northern Ireland are some of our most vulnerable young people, and are particularly at risk of trafficking and exploitation.
“My first concern is for their safety and I urge all those responsible to renew their efforts to locate these missing young people. Most will now be young adults, but they still remain extremely vulnerable and our priority must be their protection and ensuring they receive the support they need.
“It seems clear that over this period the system in Northern Ireland was unprepared, and without full safeguards in place for these children.
“I recognise that much has recently been done to strengthen arrangements and put in place more robust support for separated children.
“I am reassured that since the summer of 2014 no young people have been reported missing. I have also visited the main residential home where many separated young people are living, to hear directly from the young people and staff and was impressed by what I saw and heard.
“However this does not detract from my concern for the children who have gone missing, and that agencies must make sure all lessons from these tragic cases have been learned.
“Northern Ireland should have the highest standards of care in place for these children. NICCY has consistently advised government that we should be meeting international standards for separated children, and this includes making sure each child is supported by an independent Guardian. While this was introduced in law more than one year ago it is still not yet a reality in children’s lives.
“Guardians will not only help separated young people negotiate what can be a complex and unfamiliar system, but crucially also help to keep them safe. We cannot afford to delay this any further and I call on the Minister of Health and the Assembly Health Committee to urgently address this.
“I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure we continue to build on the developments we now have in place.”
Notes to Editors