Good afternoon Chair and members of the committee. The National Women’s Council was pleased to be invited to speak today and we are very pleased to share this opportunity with our member, An Cosán. An Cosán's CEO, Ms Heydi Foster Breslin, is with me. The statement we will read incorporates An Cosán's statement also.
As a 190-member organisation, our members are the National Women’s Council. For us a child’s poverty is the poverty of her family, her household and her community. As other contributors will discuss, one-parent families are the most at risk of poverty in Ireland. With 86% of those families being headed by women, child poverty is a significant gender equality issue. As well as some of the protection and income supports that will be discussed today, it is recognised in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 that supporting and resourcing the women’s community development sector is a key to providing supports and services needed for socially excluded women to challenge this inequality. An Cosán provides an excellent exemplar and is a recognised and highly regarded model of women’s community development and education, wrap-around support and intervention.
It has been said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. Social exclusion, deprivation, a stifling lack of opportunity and exposure to the harsh effects of economic fragility can press down on even the most resilient, particularly young children as they are setting out in life from this challenging starting point. An Cosán has been providing a path to a better future for women and children, as all women's community development organisations do, for over 35 years. It passionately believes in the transformative power of education to change a person’s path. By empowering a woman and educating her, we empower her whole family to value and appreciate the benefits of education. For the women using An Cosán's services, education is their hope. It is their chance to build a sustainable and equitable future for themselves and their children.
For the little ones starting out in life, An Cosán uses its expertise and resources to help them develop in those crucial first five years of their learning journey. It uses best-in-class learning and development practice to help children make their first steps in the world from a more equitable place.
Community education’s roots in Ireland can be traced back to the idea of no classes without crèches and the emancipation goals of the women’s movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At An Cosán, they know that integrated support services for children and families are critical to addressing the intersectional nature of poverty. Intergenerational education breaks the insidious cycle of poverty. That is An Cosán's aspiration for the "one generation solution", raising up women through education so that they and their families can escape poverty forever. In just one generation they can and do break that cycle.
Equity of access to education is key to tackling intergenerational child poverty. Equity means those who are furthest behind are able to access high-quality education, from the early years to lifelong learning and development. Every woman in Ireland deserves the right to be able to access community education. Every child in Ireland deserves a right to benefit from a start in life which includes a warm, caring environment; a high-quality curriculum delivered by well trained and well recompensed professionals; a range of qualified supports to promote child development; scaffolding to help children learn to regulate their behaviour and life stage transitions; and the development of a love of learning.
Equity of access to education is key to tackling intergenerational child poverty. Equity means those who are furthest behind are able to access high-quality education from the early years to lifelong learning and development. Every woman in Ireland deserves the right to be able to access community education. Every child in Ireland deserves a right to benefit from a start in life which includes a warm, caring environment; a high-quality curriculum delivered by well-trained and well recompensed professionals; a range of qualified supports to promote child development; scaffolding to help children learn to regulate their behaviour and life-stage transitions; and the development of a love of learning. This is the measure of treating our most vulnerable that we can all be proud of. It shifts the odds in their favour and delivers that one generation solution to poverty.
This is not an An Cosán issue, as members all know. It is not a Tallaght west issue. The need for integrated services exists right across the country and across our society. It is at its most urgent where poverty is most deeply concentrated. In An Cosán, early years professionals, counsellors, family support workers and educators provide courses in adult education, higher education, literacy and digital skills. We all know that all women and children have a right to equity of opportunity in our wealthy, civilised society. We have seen over the past four decades how, as a society, we all face the same storms. We all face recessions, financial crises and now a pandemic. Let us be in no doubt, however, that we are not all in the same boat. Some of us have many advantages whatever the weather, while others are struggling to hold on even in normal times.