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School Completion Programme

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 October 2019

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Questions (60)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

60. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the promised review of the school completion programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43273/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

I would like an update from the Minister regarding the review of the school completion programme.

The school completion programme, SCP, continues to deliver a valuable service for some of our most vulnerable young people. Currently, the SCP receives annual funding of €24.7 million.

My Department works with the educational welfare service, EWS, in Tusla to ensure that necessary resources are available to support this programme and to ensure staffing levels are sufficient to deliver a high-quality service for those young people most at risk of early school leaving. However, a number of long-term complex issues continue to exist in regard to the governance and the staffing of the programme.

In recognition of the need for a strong policy platform for educational welfare services, including the SCP, I requested that my officials establish a task group to support the further development and integration of these services. The work of this group is near completion.  As someone with a background in educational welfare, I am eager to ensure the output will result in a clear blueprint for the development of the three strands of the EWS, including the SCP.

A consultation event on the blueprint was held on 10 June, where those working with vulnerable young people as part of the EWS were able to express their views and help shape the policy blueprint prior to its publication. The closing date for the consultations was extended to mid-September at the request of some stakeholders. Some 58 submissions were received and are now being examined. Next steps are being informed by the content of these submissions and action will proceed on that basis with the aim of completion by the end of the year.

As part of the implementation of the actions contained in the blueprint, I have requested that a new SCP scheme be scoped out and developed to ensure that its reach, resources and impact are maximised in supporting young people. My Department has worked closely with colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in regard to the employment status of SCP co-ordinators and project workers and I will continue to examine options in regard to this in the context of the development of this new scheme. 

I thank the Minister for her reply. The Minister is aware that I am an advocate of this programme and I can never say enough good about it. This service follows the needs of the child and is not based on the child having first come to the attention of Tusla in order to get assistance. Under this programme, it does not matter who the child's parents are or what is going on in his or her life.

A lot of kids do not necessarily come to the attention of other services. A lot of stuff is means tested based on parents and people just fall outside of various other schemes but this is totally child-centred. It is centred around what the child needs at that particular time whether through homework clubs, play therapy and counselling services, which are one of the most valuable things provided currently given the increase in levels of anxiety, stress and worry that we see in our young people particularly in schools. Children in schools running the school completion programme can get access to that immediately. It is invaluable, particularly for any child going through a crisis. Were school completion co-ordinators invited to that event on 10 June and have they been included in the consultation process? That is key. Is there going to be new money allocated? As far as I am aware, they have not had their budget increased since 2008.

I know some were at that event because I was there myself. I know they have been included in the consultation process as well. In response to the Deputy's second question, in budget 2019 I secured an additional €500,000 in funding for the educational welfare service and the alternative educational assessment and registration service and I have maintained that in budget 2020. This has allowed the educational welfare service to increase its number of educational welfare officers to provide additional administrative support, which has allowed these educational welfare officers to focus on working with young people who are experiencing difficulties with school attendance. As the Deputy is aware, they work with the school completion people very closely. In addition, in terms of school completion, in my Department we have been working closely with colleagues in the Department of Education and Skills and local stakeholders, particularly in the context of a programme called City Connects, which is coming out of Boston College, and taking a look at it specifically initially for the north-east inner city. It is an evidence-based intervention that is committed to an ongoing and scientifically rigorous evaluation of results. Its strength-based programming works to the principle of progressive universalism. There is a desire to use this programme and to begin to put it in place there as a way of moving forward and supporting the school completion work.

It is really important that the school completion co-ordinators are totally involved in that consultation process. I know there have been some governance issues and I accept that. They also did have a proposal going back a few years in respect of being brought in under the education and training boards, ETBs, for their governance issues. I had concerns when it was taken out of the Department of Education and Skills because Tusla has a different approach and attitude to school completion from what the programme was actually designed for. As I said earlier, it is totally focused on the needs of the child but sometimes those in Tusla think it is an extra resource for them and for children who come to their attention. The idea of this service is that it can prevent people coming as far as the attention of Tusla. Is the new money that has been allocated specifically for school completion or is it falling under a general budget for educational welfare? It is important that any money that is going to it is specifically ring-fenced for it.

The Deputy raised a point that has to do with the employment status for school completion co-ordinators and project workers in the proposal they put forward to be brought in under ETBs. I can say absolutely that I personally, as well as my officials, have been exploring that with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The process of examining that is ongoing. We have had many meetings to try to move forward and certainly have taken their voice into account in that regard. We do not have an outcome yet. In respect of additional moneys, I will be in the process of identifying with Tusla the appropriate way to resource and to spend. School completion is part of that as well as the other aspects of the educational welfare service. I am very much aware of the fact that they could use additional resources in order to support their work.

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