Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an gCeann Comhairle as ucht seans a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar seo a chur faoi bhráid an Aire. I am delighted that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is here to discuss this issue. I express my disappointment, however, that this House will be debating the X case legislation for the next two and a half months, during which time parliamentary party meetings will be convulsed in heavy debate and we will all be under intense pressure to deal with an issue that has dogged us for 20 years, yet when a problem pertaining to 6,300 children in care and their educational needs arises, there is only one backbencher - me - to raise it. I find the hypocrisy galling and odious.
I refer the Minister to the report published yesterday by the ESRI, commissioned by the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, Education of Children in Care in Ireland: An Exploratory Study, which details some of the difficulties children in care have in maximising their educational potential. The Minister is well aware of some of these difficulties such as attitudinal barriers on the part of teachers and principals, placement breakdowns, inadequate care planning, as well as delays and shortfalls in assessment. The Children's Ombudsman has said she was shocked at the lack of adequate information on schooling for children in care. She said, "When encountered, these challenges place children in care at higher risk of suspension, exclusion, absenteeism and early school leaving." It seems there are no data on this issue within the Minister's Department, the Department of Education and Skills or the Department of Health. In my experience, where there is cross-departmental responsibility, problems such as this fall through the cracks.
In respect of data collection and research, the report states: "A mechanism needs to be established for systematic gathering of data on the educational experiences of children in care in order to inform evidence-based policy making". We cannot have a policy on the education of children in care and how to maximise their education potential unless we know what we are dealing with.
There are some good news stories within the report. There is evidence to suggest that when children in care are placed in foster families and experience a stable family background, they can achieve their potential and do quite well. Without the essential data, however, and the required information as outlined in the report, or unless some scientific research is conducted on the educational experience of all of these 6,300 young people in the system, we cannot plan properly for the future.
These are the most vulnerable children in the education system. That is an oft-used term, but these children have been placed in care because of dysfunction in their own families or other particular family situations and they need the education system more than anybody else. Education is the great liberator. It is the only thing that can change one's life, regardless of what happens, whether one is placed in care because of a family breakdown, or one's relationship breaks down, one falls sick or loses one's job. Education is the one thing that will always rescue someone and ensure he or she always bounces back. If we have no data on what is happening to children in care and if we are not digging deep into the reasons they are falling out of the system and underachieving, that is a major failing on our part. Is the Minister aware of the report and, if so, has she read its findings and is she prepared to act on them?