INTO Backs Focus Ireland Campaign Calling For Support For 1,800 Schoolchildren Homeless
A new Focus Ireland campaign calling for supports for 1,800 schoolchildren who are homeless is being backed by the largest teachers’ union in Ireland. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has thrown its weight behind the campaign which highlights homelessness is also an education crisis for these children.
Focus Ireland is calling on the Minister for Education, and his department, to design and deliver a package of supports for children from families who are homeless. A total of 561 emails have already been sent by the public to Minister Bruton calling for action. Focus Ireland and the INTO are now urging people to add their voice to the campaign, here. Focus Ireland’s family services support families and children who are homeless, but the charity stressed that specific education supports are needed.
The current reality is that significant numbers of pupils are coming to school from emergency accommodation and are showing the physical and psychological impact of having to live in hotel rooms. Teachers are witnessing children who are struggling in class due to a lack of sleep, a lack of healthy food, and the damaging impact of having no space in the emergency homeless accommodation to do their homework or to even play. When a family becomes homeless they are often forced to move away from friends, family and school, which adds to the disruption for children. While parents do their very best, the stress of being homeless impacts on all the family and hits children the hardest. Other problems include depression, anxiety, difficulties concentrating and the family tensions created by their situation.
Focus Ireland Advocacy Manager Roughan MacNamara said: “It is fundamentally wrong that as a society we now have 1,800 children who are homeless returning to school this week. These children and their families need a home. But without essential education supports right now, the children will suffer again. International research shows that being homeless damages a child’s education and can impact on their whole education.”
Focus Ireland said that as the homeless crisis has deepened teachers have witnessed first-hand the impact of this reality on children, from increased travel times and distances to schools, difficulties for parents who try to prepare healthy lunches for school and a lack of suitable space for completion of homework. The harsh reality is that significant numbers of pupils are coming to school from emergency accommodation and are showing the physical and psychological impact of having to live in hotel rooms.
Teachers are witnessing children who are struggling with a lack of sleep, a lack of healthy food, no space to do homework or to play and the inability to ask friends to visit. The teachers and schools are working hard to help all children but they need better supports to help deal with increasingly complex pupil needs. This support from the INTO is timely, it comes as children get ready to return to school this week. A total of 1,200 children who are homeless are in primary school while 600 are in secondary.
As INTO President John Boyle explained, his members have witnessed first-hand the terrible impact of this crisis on children. Mr Boyle said: “Primary teachers see daily the challenges faced by children and families experiencing homelessness. INTO supports Focus Ireland’s call for guidance and resources to assist schools to ensure that the effects of homelessness on education and learning are minimised.”
Mr. Boyle added: “From what we see and hear, as children get older, they begin to feel very conscious of their homeless situation and often isolate themselves from their school peers as they find it difficult to join in in school sports and other normal extra-curricular activities.”
The most recently released Government homeless figures showed that the situation is getting worse at there are now nearly 3,000 children who are homeless. That is a shocking rise of 30% since this time last year. Meanwhile, even more children are at risk of having their education damaged in the coming years as youngsters aged 0-4 are the largest single age group who are now homeless.
One mother of three Áine (not her real name) has been homeless for over a year since the family home was repossessed. She spoke of the impact this is having on her children. Focus Ireland staff are working with the family and Áine said she supports the charity’s campaign calling for education support for children who are homeless.
Áine said: “My daughter is entering fifth year in secondary school and she is determined to get the points needed for the third level course she wants to do. It is really difficult for her when she is doing her homework on a small coffee table in a hotel room. I also have a son in primary school.
“My other son is in college and I am also in college too as a full time student. Living like this in one little hotel room – with only three beds for the four of us – puts a lot of strain on the kids and on me as a mother. I am doing my best for them but it’s tough in this situation.”
Áine added: “In my own case since I have been homeless this year it is the first time I failed a module in college. Being homeless is having an impact on all of us. We are trying to improve our situation but it’s difficult for children to focus fully on education when living like this with no privacy or even proper cooking facilities.”
With the Government review of Rebuilding Ireland to be concluded this month, Focus Ireland has repeated its call that the review must include a strong commitment for the urgent development of a specific strategy on family homelessness. The charity said this must include a cast iron commitment that no family should be homeless for more than six months.
Until the crisis of family homelessness is solved, Focus Ireland believes that a package of teacher training, guidance and targeted supports would make a real different to children experiencing homelessness.
Focus Ireland and the INTO are now urging people to add their voice to the campaign, by clicking here.