Homeless parents forced to choose between food and travel so children can remain in original school
Parents of homeless children are choosing between buying food or paying travel costs so they can stay in school in their original community.
It is among a grim litany of suffering and loss being faced by children caught up in the current homelessness crisis, according to a report out today.
The Children’s Rights Alliance report examines the impact of homelessness and living in emergency accommodation on children, with a particular focus on how it was affecting their education.
Figures for May show that there were almost 10,000 people homeless in Ireland, including almost 4,000 children living in emergency accommodation.
The findings of the study highlight how, in many cases, basic needs, such as adequate food and rest, are not being met, and without that, children cannot meaningfully engage and participate in education and learning.
The study, the first of its kind, is based on research among teachers, school principals and homeless parents in the greater Dublin area, conducted by Grainne McKenna and Dr Geraldine Scanlon of Dublin City University’s Institute of Education.
It was supported by The Community Foundation for Ireland, the Tomar Trust charity, the social inclusion agency, Pobal ,and the Department of Rural and Community Development.
The study paints a distressing picture of children going to school hungry and in dirty clothes because of the limitations of their accommodation, sometimes having to rise at 5.30am to make a long journey across the city and then falling asleep in class.
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.
The report gives examples of parents sacrificing food to pay for travel costs to school, or vice versa.
At the time the research was being conducted last year, families said they had been told of potential support for school transport, but none had received travel cards or financial assistance with school transport costs, the report states.
Getting to school and through the school day is only part of the educational challenge, with the limitations of emergency accommodation a poor environment for a child to engage in homework and play.
Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said “a good home forms the essential basis that prepares a child to go to school, to learn and to thrive. Emergency accommodation does not provide this foundation, despite the huge efforts of schools and parents.”
She said children who were homeless lost out on every level because they had no home to provide them with the backdrop that they needed to learn and grow relationships.
“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.
Ms Ward pointed to “important lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina in the US some years ago”, when it was found that school played a vital role in supporting children through the distress of homelessness.
According to the report, at a time of homelessness, the function of the school changes from being a place of learning to a place of safety, routine and predictability but poor attendance and living away from school impacted on academic achievement and social relationships.
“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.
It calls for a range of supports , including free travel to school and ring-fenced funding for schools to allow them to provide extras such as meals, psychological assessments and homework clubs.
Other recommendations in the report include ensuring that homeless families with children were supported in accessing appropriate accommodation, that is also close to their school or childcare service