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Education Welfare Service.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 11 October 2005

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Ceisteanna (18)

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

15 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the average caseload per officer at the National Educational Welfare Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27566/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (4 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. 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 or guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers 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 service is developing on a continuing basis. The total authorised staffing complement is currently 94, comprising 16 headquarters and support staff, five regional managers, 12 senior educational welfare officers and 61 educational welfare officers. In deploying its service staff, the board has prioritised the provision of services to the most disadvantaged areas and most at risk groups. Five regional teams are in place with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. An education welfare service is available in every county in Ireland.

The board indicated to my Department that the average caseload of each educational welfare officer as of July 2005 was approximately 164. The board continually reviews the protocols for prioritising children and families who require intervention to ensure that children with the greatest need gain maximum benefit from available resources, and to work with local agencies in prioritising children's and family needs. In this regard, there are some 490 staff in education disadvantage programmes whose work involves a school attendance element. My Department is anxious to ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from these substantial personnel resources. Consequently, work is ongoing to develop appropriate protocols for integrated working between the different services involved.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I take the point she makes that other people also operate in this area. I am concerned that the limited number of people working in the National Educational Welfare Board do not have time to liaise with the home-school-community liaison officers and all the others involved. The staff are particularly helpful but they engage in a fire brigade response to issues that arise. The chief executive of the board said that further research is needed to examine the detailed reasons behind absenteeism but they do not have the time to carry out this research. Will the Minister provide the National Educational Welfare Board with extra staff so that the root cause for absenteeism can be dealt with rather than responding to individual cases?

It is important to have more co-ordination between these services. For example, there are 40 visiting teachers for Travellers. One of the groups with whom the National Educational Welfare Board works closely is Travellers, yet there are 40 people who do nothing else but visit schools where there are Travellers. We must ensure there is not an overlap in this type of work. These services should complement each other.

The school completion programme and home-school-community liaison scheme were also mentioned. By working together, they can ensure their work is complementary. It is important that they should examine their workload qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Each scenario is different. However, the educational welfare board was only set up three years ago. It employs 73 full-time welfare officers as well as support staff, which demonstrates our commitment in this regard.

The number is fewer than that recommended.

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