With school starting up soon after the summer break, and rising numbers of children living in emergency accommodation, we take a look at how homelessness affects the education of children.
For a lot of families, back to school time can come with a lot of stress, worries and financial pressures. For families and children living in emergency accommodation, these fears are even more extreme. There are nearly 4,000 children living in emergency accommodation and this has risen by nearly 1,000 children since this time last year. This is not just a number. This represents 4,000 children who are being robbed of their childhood and the opportunity to learn and develop the way every child deserves to.
Recent media attention has focused on families who have had to spend the night sleeping in Garda stations.This has been happening more frequently despite the best efforts of our staff, as sometimes there is no suitable emergency accommodation available. With the school term starting back for most schools at the end of August, this is an additional worry for families. For children who have to get up and go to school the next morning, a Garda station is no place to spend the night. Children who are staying in emergency accommodation who do not get a room in a hotel until the late evening, face very real challenges the following morning, from travelling to schools, let alone concentrating in class after a period in unstable accommodation.
Impact on Performance in School
In July, the Children’s Rights Alliance published a new report which highlighted the negative impacts of homelessness on the educational needs of children in emergency accommodation. This study was the first of its kind and found that children living in emergency accommodation were coming into school exhausted and some were falling asleep in class. Many families who are living in emergency accommodation are far from their child’s school and have to get up very early in the morning and make a long journey to school. They are doing so often without having had a nutritious breakfast to give them energy for the day. A Focus Ireland report into the nutritional health of families living in emergency accommodation found that for families living in hotels or B&Bs, access to breakfast could be problematic: the timing of breakfast being available often clashed with the pressure to get ready for school and leave in time. Many families face a long journey to school in the morning transport children to school, meant that they often did not avail of the breakfast provided. The study by the Children’s Rights Alliance found that some families have to get up as early as 5:30am in order to get to school on time. These long journeys to and from school, combined with lack of access to prepare nutritious food, inadequate facilities for sleep and maintaining personal hygiene can result in children feeling exhausted and irritable, which impacts on their school attendance and results in reduced engagement and participation in school and extra-curricular activities.
Back to School Costs
In addition to the physical toll on children who are living in emergency accommodation, this time of the year brings a lot of extra costs for parents and this is a particular source of stress for parents who are homeless. Over the summer months, The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection received over 36,000 applications for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and many people are experiencing delays receiving their payments. This shows that there is a huge pressure on parents to provide new clothes and footwear for their children as they outgrow clothes and feel peer pressure to wear what other children are wearing. Barnardos conduct an annual School Costs Survey, which recently published its results for 2018. According to this survey, the overwhelming majority of children (75% of primary and 97% of secondary) are still required to wear a crested uniform to school, despite the availability of more affordable alternatives. The survey also found that the average cost of sending a child to senior infants is €360; the average cost of sending a child to first year is €765. For parents and children in emergency accommodation, this is an additional worry at this time of year.
Children living in emergency accommodation often have nowhere to do their homework in the evenings in a comfortable setting and without distractions. For families who have to wait until the late evening to even get a place in a hotel or B&B, this is an additional stress on the children to find the time to do their homework. In June of this year, Focus Ireland, with the support of Tusla, extended our opening hours in the Coffee Shop, Temple Bar, to accommodate families in the evening. The service provides an evening meal, a place for children to do their homework, play areas and a place of safety for these families. Families will also have the support of skilled case managers to help them cope with their circumstances and navigate out of homelessness.
For children who are living in emergency accommodation, school may be the only source of stability and routine in their lives. Parents interviewed in the study by the Children’s Rights Alliance highlighted the difference that praise, encouragement and in-school supports made to their children. Despite this, teachers have called on the Department of Education to received adequate training to be able to support children who are experiencing homelessness.
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