Sunday 26 January 2020

Parents of homeless children are forced to choose between food and paying for bus back to school

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Parents of homeless children are choosing between buying food or paying travel costs so the youngsters can stay in school in their original community.

It is among a harrowing litany of suffering and loss experienced by homeless children, the numbers of whom have grown to almost to 4,000

A new report from the Children's Rights Alliance examines the impact of homelessness and living in emergency accommodation on children, with a particular focus on how it was affecting their education.

Its findings highlight how, in many cases, basic needs, such as adequate food and rest, are not being met, and without that, children could not 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, and was conducted by Grainne McKenna and Dr Geraldine Scanlon, of Dublin City University's Institute of Education.

It 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 report cites examples of parents sacrificing food to pay for travel costs to school, or vice versa.

Getting to school and through the school day is only part of the challenge, with the limitations of emergency accommodation a poor environment for a child to engage in homework and play.

The report found that the uncertainty and displacement caused by homelessness also affected children's behaviour and mental health, including refusal to eat, increased levels of agitation, crying and comfort-seeking behaviours.

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.

"Our report finds 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 to allow schools to provide extras such as meals, psychological assessments and homework clubs.

Other recommendations include ensuring families with children are supported in accessing appropriate accommodation, close to their school or childcare service, and they should not have to live in emergency or temporary accommodation more than six months.

Irish Independent

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