Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Child and Family Agency (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


6:15 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I wish to reinforce what my comrade, Teachta Ó Laoghaire, talked about yesterday when we were discussing this Bill and the importance of the home liaison programme and the school completion programme. The home school liaison officers often save futures and sometimes even save lives. They can be the lifeline not just for a child but for whole families and the younger siblings coming up behind the child. They can iron out even the difficult wrinkles and help the child and the school discover what both need. In certain cases they can provide support to parents who might be struggling through no fault of their own. I know of one such co-ordinator who went on to hold DIY classes and furniture making classes specifically for mothers, building community and resilience where previously those mothers were isolated. In the time of Covid, when many students have fallen behind and others are barely hanging on and have lost out in terms of the education system, these programmes and the support they bring are even more critical than usual.

It is very hard to consider the number of schools that are locked out of the system due to the failure to expand the DEIS system, especially band 2, in recent years. The Minister can therefore imagine how disappointed our party was that this lack was compounded in budget 2022, making no commitment to extend the home school liaison and the school completion programmes to more schools, given their proven capacity to change and enrich young lives. In contrast, in our alternative budget we made provision for 100 additional home school liaison co-ordinators, with €5 million in additional funding for school completion. I know from talking to teachers in north Kildare that there are concerns that students who need extra support to stay within the system and to thrive once they have done so will not be able to get it. Some 4,500 children across the State did not go back to school after the Covid closures last year, so if there were ever a time to ramp up the support for these programmes and to enhance them, that time is now. The future of so many children and young people depend on them.

It is clear there is major work to be done to support all students but especially vulnerable students who missed in-class learning during the various lockdowns. I believe technology poverty was exposed during that time as some families had an array of equipment and connectivity to choose from while other children had to take turns to do classwork or submit homework with a parent's mobile phone. When there were home offices in spacious houses with a suite of laptops, iPads and tablets to choose from, things were difficult enough. When families were confined to overcrowded conditions, often with in-laws, aunts and uncles or grandparents, the divide in our education system became more apparent, the experience for children and families in such situations even bleaker. I expect, too, that quite a number of children would have longed for school as a refuge and the dignity and safety in the well-off leafy suburbs.

I agree with my comrade, Teachta Ó Laoghaire, that the Covid learning and support scheme, CLASS, recently announced by the Minister, though welcome, is not enough and does not go far enough. The small number of additional teaching hours involved are unambitious and in no way in keeping with the breadth or depth of the need. Equally, those few teaching hours are in no way sufficient to address the effects, many of which have yet to manifest, on a child or class and will therefore need to be enhanced.


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