The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.
To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally.
The board has appointed a chief executive officer, directors of corporate services and educational welfare services and a management team of eight staff. To date, 62 educational welfare staff have been appointed. I understand the board will soon make a further EWO appointment which will bring the service delivery staff to its authorised complement of 63 service delivery staff.
At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas, including areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and an educational welfare service is now available, for the first time, in the cities of Limerick, Galway and Kilkenny. Twelve towns with significant school going populations, 11 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, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally.
In July 2004, the board will receive the first comprehensive data returns from schools and these will assist it in keeping the level of need for the new service in particular areas under review.
The NEWB has indicated that it is not aware of the circumstances of the case raised by the Deputy. However, the board has indicated that it is prepared to meet the Deputy to hear his concerns and to see how best it can respond.