Homeless children’s education in Ireland ‘severely affected’
A leading child rights champion has warned that the education of thousands of children in Ireland is being jeopardised as a result of homelessness caused by family hardship.
The Children’s Rights Alliance says youngsters’ basic needs for nutrition, rest and good health are not being met when made homeless after their family has had no other option but to move into emergency or temporary housing.
In its study on the educational needs of children experiencing homelessness and living in emergency accommodation, the alliance discovered through interviews with parents that some were having to wake their children as early as 5.30am to make long journeys across cities to school.
Many children are exhausted and some are falling asleep in class. Some parents are also often having to make a choice whether to give their child enough money for their lunch, or to use it for getting the bus to school, but not both.
Yet the organisation still sees schools as a ‘beacon of hope’ and a place which offers a sanctuary the youngsters cannot find anywhere else. Day care centres and schools, it believes, continue to play a vital role in the lives of youngsters, despite a need for more resources to help these vital outlets give children what they need.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “A good home forms the essential basis that prepares a child to go to school, to learn and to thrive. Living in emergency accommodation for long periods simply does not provide this necessary foundation, despite the colossal efforts of schools and parents.
“Ireland is experiencing an unprecedented homelessness crisis at present, with almost 4,000 children in homeless or emergency accommodation. Here, all aspects of children’s educational experience are grossly impacted upon,” she added. “When children are denied their right to education, they lose the chance to develop to their fullest potential. This loss can extend across their lifespan, impacting on their health, wellbeing, social relationships and occupational success.
The aim of the report was to gain a deeper understanding of children’s access to education and school participation while experiencing homelessness, namely as part of families who are living in temporary and emergency accommodation. It involved interviews with parents of homeless children and educational professionals, including teachers, heads and early years workers, based in and around the capital Dublin.
Parents and teachers surveyed repeatedly identified a lack of access to a healthy diet as a ‘major factor’ impacting on children’s school attendance and learning. Children featured were often absent from school because of poor diet, tiredness and poor living conditions.
The majority of parents however were positive about their children’s relationship with teachers and school staff, saying how praise and encouragement had helped the children as they adjusted to living in unfamiliar surroundings. Almost all parents said how important school was to their children, because of friendships forged, learning opportunities and the stability and predictability it offered.
Tanya Ward added: “Schools – as well as state supports like Tusla (the Child and Family Agency), the School Completion Programme and the Department of Education and Skills – must be given the necessary resources to deal with the educational crisis for homeless children today, so that they help to avoid a major fallout for these children in the future. We must do more or else we will lose an entire generation of children.”