Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Provide toothbrushes, hairbrushes and snacks' - The new guidelines for teachers struggling to help homeless schoolchildren

'School can be a difficult place for some children'
'School can be a difficult place for some children'
Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen speaking joined by INTO President Feargal Brougham and Ghild support worker from Focus Ireland Sarah O Grady. The launch took place in St Joseph's National School Macroom Road Dublin. Photo Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.
Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen with INTO President Feargal Brougham and Ghild support worker from Focus Ireland Sarah O Grady.
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Primary schools are being urged to make clean clothes discreetly available for homeless children whose parents are struggling to meet their basic needs.

A ready supply of toothbrushes, hairbrushes and nutritious snacks are also on a list of practical ways in which schools can help out, in new guidelines for primary school teachers and principals to help families caught up in homelessness.

The guidance resource was jointly produced by the homelessness agency Focus Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) in face of the growing housing crisis.

Recent figures from the Department of Housing show that 3,778 children are homeless - a jump over 400pc in just five years – including 2,250 who are in school.

READ MORE: Children's charity dealt with highest ever number of families last year

The latest regional figures also show that the crisis has spread to many cities nationwide, with more 500 families and 1,000 children homeless outside of Dublin.

The Homelessness in the Classroom guidelines, which were launched today, detail some of the challenges faced both by homeless families, and those at risk of homelessness, and schools where their children are enrolled.

A recent survey by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network found that more than a quarter (27pc) of primary schools have children who are homeless and suffering from anxiety, poor self-esteem and exhaustion.

According to the guidelines, teachers are often the first port of call for families who are struggling. However, teachers report that they often feel helpless, powerless and ill-equipped to respond effectively to homeless pupils.

READ MORE: Dozens of residents say they are now homeless after court extends orders to vacate properties described as 'potential deathtraps'

The guidelines cover the range of ways that homelessness impacts on families and on children’s education and offers suggestions about how schools can help.

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Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen speaking joined by INTO President Feargal Brougham and Ghild support worker from Focus Ireland Sarah O Grady. The launch took place in St Joseph's National School Macroom Road Dublin. Photo Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

As well as seeking to ensure that a child’s basic needs are met, the guidelines also provide practical ways to support parents and families and to support school attendance, student achievement and student mental health, which all suffer when a child is homeless.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said homelessness was very damaging to children and the agency called for the Government to review its policies dealing with child homelessness.

READ MORE: Rise in number of homeless children 'deeply disheartening'

INTO President Feargal Brougham said that “as a newly-qualified teacher 30 years ago, he could never have foreseen that one day he would be launching a resource on primary school children’s homelessness.

“The idea that almost 4,000 children would be homeless was an alien one decades ago. It is a repugnant reality today."

He said the teacher’s voice comes through in the new resource, and they wanted “not only to assist in making school a haven for their pupils, but were also demanding “an end to this stain on our Republic".

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Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen with INTO President Feargal Brougham and Ghild support worker from Focus Ireland Sarah O Grady.

Mr Brougham called on the Department of Education “to end its inertia on this topic and give schools the extra ring fenced resources and guidance they demand and need.”

He said the suggestions contained in the new resource school would not suit every school context and may need to be adjusted to respond to the individual pupils.”

A copy of the guidelines can be seen here.

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