Co-Authored Letter published in the Irish Times of September 22nd 2020
Sir, – A high-level national working group to address the cross-departmental responsibilities of the State to children in care, with a specific focus on meeting their holistic educational needs in a coordinated way, across all age levels, is urgently needed to address the current glaring strategic gap in the education system on this issue.
The majority of children in the care of the State (under Tusla) live with foster carers. According to current Tusla figures, there are 6,029 children in care, of which 92.1 per cent were placed in foster care (26.3 per cent of those in foster care being placed in relative foster care).
It is estimated that in every primary school in Ireland there is at least one young person in that school who is in care, and in every secondary school there are between four and five young people in care.
Key issues need to be considered at an official level by an interdepartmental group across the Department of Education and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Clarity is needed on which ministry is responsible for leading state policy regarding children in the care of the State, and which ministries share or have responsibility, at any level, for children in the care of the State.
It is a concern that children in care may be overrepresented in the suspension and exclusion groups.
As children in care experience trauma, loss and attachment difficulties, there is a lack of school-based emotional counselling and therapeutic supports for this and other vulnerable groups. Other additional mentoring supports in schools for these students and their carers are needed.
A category for children in care is absent in the Department of Education and Skills primary and post-primary online databases.
Whole-school plans must provide evidence of addressing the needs of children in care.
Trauma-informed and attachment-aware practices, training and policies in education are required at all levels.
A 2019 McVerry Trust/Educational Disadvantage Centre report revealed that those who have been in residential or foster care were vastly over-represented in the sample of homeless men in temporary accommodation.
A stated policy on school admissions and children in care is required, cognisant of the need to uphold children’s rights to privacy.
These children and young people’s voices must be heard to ensure they are listened to and involved in all decisions and plans for their educational care.
Much more needs to be done around data collection, and tracking of children in care. Plans must be in place to track educational outcomes for these children, and clarity is needed on the status of the 10-year longitudinal study recommended by the Ryan report.
Communication channels between social services, foster parents and schools require much more development. Foster carers and relative carers need more information and support on the children’s educational rights.
Children in care need recognition as a distinct group as part of a higher education access strategy.
Children in care require strategic support by schools and other services in the transition from primary to post-primary school.
Development of a continuing professional development and initial teacher education strategy for working with current and future teachers to support these students’ complex needs must be in place.
If a care-leaver takes a gap year, they need to be supported in retaining supports and entitlements, with such aftercare support continuing until age 25.
Better supports for their obtaining the Back to Education Allowance Scheme are also required for those over 25.
Financial supports for access to third level, including through a national scholarship scheme for care-leavers as mature students, are required.
A Department of Education and Skills circular to all third-level education providers is required to explain the needs of this vulnerable group to staff.
The Scottish government has recently announced the removal of the age cap of 26 on the care-experienced student bursary in time for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
People with experience of care often do not feel ready to start further or higher education immediately after leaving school – this will support them into either further or higher education at whatever point in life they feel they are ready, regardless of their age.
We urge the Government to address these issues as a matter of priority. – Yours, etc,
Dr PAUL DOWNES,
Dublin City University
Fórsa Trade Union;
Department of Psychology,