Thousands of children have had their education interrupted and negatively impacted by homelessness, according to a report published today by the Children’s Rights Alliance. The report, ‘Home Works: A Study on the Educational Needs of Children Experiencing Homelessness and Living in Emergency Accommodation’, shows:
- Children’s basic needs for nutrition, adequate rest and good health are not met when they experience homelessness. The children featured in the report experienced frequent school absences attributed to poor diet, inadequate rest and poor living conditions. The parents surveyed described how infections – including chicken pox, ear infections and head lice – were common, and difficult to treat and manage while living in overcrowded and confined accommodation.
- Across all types of educational provision, parents reported that school was important to their children, not only because of friendships and learning experiences, but also because of the stability and predictability it offered amid the uncertainty and stresses that accompanied their experience of homelessness.
- The majority of parents (17 out of 20) spoke positively about their children’s relationship with teachers and school staff. They described how praise, authentic encouragement and access to in-school supports had assisted children during periods of transition.
- The parents and teachers surveyed repeatedly identified lack of access to a healthy diet as a factor impacting on children’s school attendance and learning. Parents described challenges in providing school lunches while living in emergency accommodation, with some reporting they had to choose between paying for transport to school and feeding their children.
- Thirteen of 19 families surveyed indicated their children had to get up each morning before seven, with three parents waking their children at 5.30am to ensure access to a communal bathroom and allow enough travel time to get to school. Children were said to be fatigued before arriving in school, often sleeping on their morning commute.
- Scarce financial resources, long journeys to and from school, significant transport costs, lack of appropriate facilities for food preparation and storage, and inadequate facilities for sleep and maintaining personal hygiene result in irritability, exhaustion, low self-esteem and feelings of social isolation amongst children experiencing homelessness. This impacts on their school attendance and results in reduced engagement and participation in school life.
- The uncertainty and displacement caused by homelessness result in changes to children’s behaviour, including refusal to eat, increased levels of agitation, crying and comfort-seeking behaviours – with negative repercussions for their education.
“Beacon of Hope”
Commenting today, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “A good home forms the essential basis that prepares a child to go to school, to learn and to thrive. Living in emergency accommodation for long periods simply does not provide this necessary foundation, despite the colossal efforts of schools and parents.
“Ireland is experiencing an unprecedented homelessness crisis at present, with almost 4,000 children in homeless or emergency accommodation. Here, all aspects of children’s educational experience are grossly impacted upon. When children are denied their right to education, they lose the chance to develop to their fullest potential. This loss can extend across their lifespan, impacting on their health, wellbeing, social relationships and occupational success.
“What our report finds is that schools are a beacon of hope for families and a place of sanctuary for children. They provide a stability and consistency that is otherwise absent in a child’s life.
“Crèches, schools and the Schools Completion Programme are playing a vital role in supporting children experiencing homelessness. Yet, sometimes, educational professionals say they feel helpless and badly need more resources to help them to cope.
“Schools – as well as state supports like Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, the School Completion Programme and the Department of Education and Skills – must be given the necessary resources to deal with the educational crisis for homeless children today, so that they help to avoid a major fallout for these children in the future. We must do more or else we will lose an entire generation of children.”
The recommendations in the Children’s Rights Alliance report include:
- A ring-fenced fund for schools to provide for the needs of children experiencing homelessness, including psychological assessment and support, extracurricular activities, homework clubs, additional tuition, or wrap-around services delivered within the school premises.
- Increased provision of the Home School Community Liaison programme, and extension of this service to non-DEIS schools with children experiencing homelessness.
- Expansion of the July Education Programme of the Department of Education and Skills – which provides funding to extend the school year by a month for children with severe learning disabilities or autism – to include children experiencing homelessness.
- All temporary and emergency accommodation centres should have appropriately trained staff, safe and secure spaces for rest and sleep, age-appropriate homework and study spaces, adequate facilities for food preparation and storage, and appropriate standards of sanitary accommodation, including private bathrooms and access to washing machines.
- A commitment from Government to provide a specific timeline in which it will end the use of emergency hotel and B&B type accommodation for families with children. The report recommends that families with children should not have to live in emergency or temporary accommodation for more than six months and figures relating to the type of provision and period of homelessness for families should be maintained and published on a monthly basis.
- All schools making provision for children experiencing homelessness should have access to resources and facilities to provide children with regular, nutritious food. Consideration should also be given to mechanisms to support children’s access to nutritionally adequate food outside of school hours – through the development of community-based meal provision within school settings.
- A review by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection of the circumstances of families experiencing homelessness to determine whether an Exceptional Needs Payment would assist with additional education-related costs, particularly at the start of the school year.
‘Home Works: A Study on the Educational Needs of Children Experiencing Homelessness and Living in Emergency Accommodation’ is available to download here.
The study was commissioned by the Children's Rights Alliance and carried out by Dr. Geraldine Scanlon and Grainne McKenna from the DCU Institute of Education.
For the report, semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents of children experiencing homelessness; a survey questionnaire was completed by educational professionals working in primary and post-primary schools in the greater Dublin region; and semi-structured interviews were conducted with school principals, teachers, home-school liaison officers and early childhood professionals working directly with children experiencing homelessness. The study commenced in June 2017, with data collection taking place from July 2017 to November 2017.