The Education (Welfare) Act was fully commenced on 5 July 2002. Under the Act, the National Educational Welfare Board was established to ensure that every child attends school regularly or otherwise receives an education.
To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service to provide welfare-focused services to children, families and schools. It has appointed a chief exectutive officer, directors of corporate services and educational welfare services and a management team of eight staff. To date, 53 educational welfare staff have been appointed. This includes 29 former school attendance officers who transferred to the board from the pre-existing service. The board has recently advertised a competition to fill a further 15 vacancies which will bring the total staff complement to 84.
At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed since early December in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. Some 13 towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. These towns are Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education.
The board has also moved to provide a service to families who decide to have their children educated in places other than in recognised schools. A small number of people with the appropriate skills have been allocated to this work and assessments will commence shortly. My Department has recently issued guidelines to assist the board in meeting its responsibilities in this area. An information leaflet and an application form are being prepared for issue to families who are educating their children at home. Work is also proceeding on the establishment of the register for 16 and 17 year olds who leave school to enter employment.
Guidelines are being prepared for schools on the reporting of student absences and a protocol outlining the interaction between schools and educational welfare staff is being developed with the assistance of the school implementation group recently established by the board. Decisions relating to the assignment of educational welfare officers to specific areas is a matter for the board which is an independent statutory authority.