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'Doing untold damage': FF calls for better State support for homeless schoolchildren

The party is bringing forward a private members motion on the matter in the Dáil tomorrow.

Fianna Fáil's Thomas Byrne TD (centre) speaking to reporters outside Leinster House today
Fianna Fáil's Thomas Byrne TD (centre) speaking to reporters outside Leinster House today
Image: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

FIANNA FÁIL EDUCATION spokesperson Thomas Byrne has hit out at the government over its “serious shortcomings” in the education provision for children experiencing homelessness. 

Byrne was speaking to reporters outside Leinster House today ahead of a Fianna Fáil private members motion on the education of children in homelessness. 

“The education attainments of children, apart from the general security and welfare, are severely compromised by homelessness,” Byrne told reporters. 

“One of the simplest things [the government] can do is issue a circular giving guidance to schools as to how to handle these issues and how to deal with children,” he said. 

Homeless emergency accommodation figures for February show that there are now a combined total of 10,264 people homeless and living in emergency accommodation in Ireland, a significant rise of 277 people from January.

The numbers taken over the course of one week in February show that there were 6,480 adults and 3,784 homeless children living in emergency accommodation in the State. 

Fianna Fáil’s motion is calling on the government to immediately collect information on the prevalence of children experiencing homelessness who do not have additional supports provided by the Department of Education. 

It is also calling for the establishment of a €5 million initial ring-fenced fund for schools to provide for the needs of children experiencing homelessness. 

In a statement, Byrne added: “The Department should consider increasing Home School Community Liaison provision where there is increased demand and extend the service to non-DEIS schools who are supporting children experiencing homelessness.

“They should also examine whether the July Education Programme could be extended to children who have experienced significant disruption to their education as a result of homelessness.”

The recommendations from a report – Home Works – published by the Children’s Rights Alliance last year are also contained in the motion. 

Bryne said that children “cannot be expected to focus on their homework when they are oftentimes sharing a small space with a number of people”.

Teachers have reported children falling asleep in class and coming to school in uniforms which are dirty due to a lack of washing facilities. This is doing untold damage to their psychological well-being.

Homeless during exam years

Last month, TheJournal.ie published an in-depth report on homelessness among school children, and specifically those undertaking State examinations. 

It noted that there are two main issues facing homeless students in Ireland – transport to and from school and the lack of suitable accommodation. 

The overwhelming majority of homeless families and children are in the Dublin region. Most of these are either living in family hubs, or rooms in commercial hotels and B&Bs.

Families – often with very young children – have had to share beds in single hotel rooms for months at a time. In many cases these hotels would have no cooking or cleaning facilities or suitable areas to study in.

“Some of the hubs have study rooms or places which are suitable for that, but not all of them do and none of the commercial hotels, which is where most people are, have anything like that,” Focus Ireland’s director of advocacy Mike Allen said. 

You’re basically studying in the bedroom with the rest of the family, whoever that might be.

Allen said that students who are homeless might face ending up with “significantly lower exam results” than usual as a result of their accommodation situation.

What provisions does the government have to support homeless students? 

The Department of Education said in a statement to TheJournal.ie that a range of resources are available to “support schools in dealing with identified additional educational needs, including needs which may arise for children who are experiencing homelessness”. 

“This includes the National Educational Psychological Service who work through a problem solving and solution-oriented consultative approach to support schools to meet the needs of individual pupils,” it said. 

DEIS also provides additional supports to schools from disadvantaged communities.

“Schools use these additional resources to meet the identified needs of their pupil cohort, including the additional needs that may arise for pupils experiencing homelessness,” the Department said. 

It added: “Schools designated as DEIS can also avail of Home School Community Liaison and School Completion supports provided by Tusla’s Educational Welfare Service to assist with school attendance, retention and progression, which can be areas of particular challenge to pupils experiencing homelessness.” 

The private members motion will be debated before the Dáil tomorrow at 3.35pm. 

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