That Dáil Éireann:
— all children, including those who are homeless or living in emergency accommodation, have the constitutional right to free primary education;
— all children and young people should have access to secondary education and not have to leave before they have completed their education because of a lack of resources;
— according to the latest statistics provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, there are currently 3,784 children living in emergency accommodation;
— a recent survey by the Irish Primary Principals' Network found that there are children experiencing homelessness in 27 per cent of primary schools;
— there is no Government policy to cater for the educational needs of children who are homeless or living in emergency accommodation and the needs of these children are mentioned neither in the Action Plan for Education, nor the Department of Education and Skills Statement of Strategy 2019-2021;
— many children experiencing homelessness do not attend Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) schools, and do not have access to the same level of supports that students in DEIS schools would be provided with; and
— the delay in processing the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance in 2018 by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection placed additional pressure on families with limited incomes;
— families with children experiencing homelessness should be provided with material assistance and support programmes to ensure their right to education can be fulfilled;
— in placing families in emergency and temporary accommodation, every possible attempt should be made to maintain children's educational stability and continuity of school placement; and
— all schools and educational settings making provision for children experiencing homelessness should have access to resources and/or facilities to provide children with regular, nutritious food;
— school is often the only stable environment for children in emergency accommodation;
— disruption to children's lives and instability arising from homelessness negatively impacts on children's capacity for learning and ability to develop and retain relationships with peers and staff in the school setting;
— pupils experiencing homelessness have been shown to present with a number of visible mental health issues, including high levels of anxiety, self-stigma, embarrassment and low levels of self-esteem, which ultimately impact on their ability to socialise in school and maintain friendships;
— homelessness can affect children's school attendance along with reduced engagement and participation in school life and learning;
— principals and teachers have been to the forefront of limiting the negative impacts of homelessness on children's education but with no assistance from the Government;
— schools will receive a 5 per cent increase in capitation funding from September 2019, but that this increase remains significantly lower than previous years; and
calls on the Government to:
— collect information on the prevalence of children experiencing homelessness who do not have access to the additional supports provided by the Department of Education and Skills;
— establish a €5 million initial ring-fenced fund for schools to provide for the needs of children experiencing homelessness attending school throughout the academic year, through the Department of Education and Skills;
— have the Department of Education and Skills issue a circular to provide advice and guidance regarding educational provision for children experiencing homelessness, including recommendations to boards of management to address additional school costs;
— examine whether the Department of Education and Skills could 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;
— expand the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness Inter-Agency Group to include representatives from the Department of Education and Skills;
— examine whether the July Education Programme could be extended to children who have experienced significant disruption to their education as a result of homelessness and produce a report on this matter within three months;
— develop appropriate professional development training for teachers and schools making provision for children experiencing homelessness through the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education and Skills;
— plan ahead for the longer-term impact of homelessness on the educational experience of these children and the disruption that it may have caused through the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla;
— examine the expansion of the School Meals Local Projects Scheme to schools that report increases in homelessness; and
— implement the recommendations of the Children's Rights Alliance Home Works report.
Gabhaim buíochas le mo chomhghleacaithe i bhFianna Fáil as a dtacaíocht leis an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála.
Last week, figures released by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government indicated there are currently 3,784 children living in emergency accommodation. Temple Street Children's University Hospital reported that 842 homeless children presented to their emergency department in 2018. The single largest population experiencing homelessness comprises children. The current homelessness crisis has been discussed on a number of occasions in this House. I am seeking to highlight and address one specific aspect that has got no coverage and on which there has been no policy whatsoever, namely, the impact on young people's education.
I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery and the work on this issue of representatives of Children's Rights Alliance, the INTO and Early Childhood Ireland. Children's Rights Alliance produced a report called Home Works and held a very informative briefing in the Houses yesterday.
The key issue, which I have raised previously with the Minister during Question Time, is that there is no stand-alone Government policy to cater for the educational needs of children who are homeless or living in emergency accommodation. By contrast with the Department of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, who has adopted some policies to deal with homelessness, the Department of Education and Skills has made no such move. The additional needs of children who are homeless or living in emergency accommodation are not mentioned in the action plan for education nor in the Statement of Strategy 2019-2021 of the Department of Education and Skills.
In addition to those who are recorded as living in emergency accommodation or homeless, there are many who are displaced temporarily to relatives' houses or other rental properties far away from the school setting. The education of this cohort is also affected adversely by the housing crisis. The Department needs to address this urgently. It does not seem to be a priority for it or the Minister. The Home Works report, produced by the Children's Rights Alliance, outlined many of the problems and proposed some solutions that are in some cases easy for the Department to implement. The report was published last July and I raised it with the Minister in November, I believe, but there seems to be no urgency.
This is not a problem limited to certain areas or certain groups although it is fair to state there is a greater problem in the larger urban areas. There are children experiencing homelessness in 27% of primary schools. Schools in and beside my constituency can state the problems straightaway. In one case a child who was not in emergency accommodation moved temporarily to Dublin but forms would have had to have been filled in at the school in Dublin related to the special educational needs of the child and the extra supports. The same had to happen when the child returned to the original school after the housing problem had ended in the local area. There are schools doing tremendous voluntary work, probably confidentially, to assist families whose children are homeless or living in emergency accommodation. Teachers and principals across the country are doing their best to provide additional supports for children and families that are needed in very difficult circumstances. Relying on the ad hoc efforts of individuals is not good enough, however. What is required is a joined-up, targeted strategy from the Department of Education and Skills. Fianna Fáil believes the Department of Education and Skills must take an active role in ensuring that the education of children experiencing homelessness is impacted as little as possible. Every child in the State has a constitutional right to primary education and it is up to the State to provide it. It has to provide it to children who are homeless or living in emergency accommodation in the same way it does to every other child.
Children experiencing homelessness face considerable disruption to their lives. Many have already experienced losing the family home, relationship break-up, financial stress, or simply an increase in rent. They now face a whole host of new challenges that put their right and entitlement to an education at risk. It thereby puts their life prospects at risk. This is indicated by the statistics.
The finding of the Home Works report was that pupils experiencing homelessness have been shown to present with a number of visible mental health issues, including high levels of anxiety, self-stigma and embarrassment and low levels of self-esteem, which ultimately affects their ability to socialise in school and maintain friendships. It is worse if they have to move school or travel from afar. Homelessness can affect children's school attendance. We heard yesterday at the briefing that parents living in emergency accommodation have to choose which child they can send to school on a given day. In such cases, children often miss school because the accommodation is so far away. They may be late for school for the same reason.
When I raised this with the Minister previously, he said the Department was focused on the additional supports provided under the DEIS programme. While it is correct that there are additional supports in DEIS schools, the problem is that the criteria for DEIS do not accurately capture this group of children. Houses in the private rental sector are not always found in areas that would be described as DEIS areas. The biggest problem here arises when people are evicted from their private rental homes. Specific targeted measures need to be put in place. The Department must actively track the children who need to be provided with additional supports. Teachers and staff who work in schools must be provided with training, advice and support on how to help children through this extremely difficult time. Funding should be made available to help children who need hot meals when this is not available in their schools. Parents who cannot afford back to school costs or who need additional home supports should be assisted. Parents have described challenges in providing school lunches while living in emergency accommodation. Such challenges are all too obvious.
July provision exists to provide additional supports to children with learning disabilities. It is recognised that additional costs are associated with the provision of education in these circumstances. Nevertheless, such provision is necessary. The motion before the House asks the Minister to consider whether July provision might be necessary for children who are experiencing significant gaps in their education. The proposals that have been made by the Children's Rights Alliance have been available to the Department for the past eight months. The costs associated with them are relatively small. The first thing we are seeking is for a policy to be put in place so that someone in the Department will grab this issue and examine it. It needs to be studied so that supports can be put in place. It is simply not acceptable that at a time when the fundamental constitutional rights of children are under threat, no action is being taken. The price of failure here, in terms of education, is very high. The price of doing something is very low.