Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

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


6:25 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill forward. It makes sense finally to move educational and welfare supports and the school completion programme back to the Department of Education. Due to the very nature of the school completion programme it should not have been under the auspices of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

Education is an extremely valuable resource. It is a fundamentally unique and important resource that needs to be delivered based upon the requirements and the needs of the child. Only by understanding this at an official level can we ensure that the children in economic or socially disadvantaged situations can have that latent talent nurtured. If this can happen, then such potential can be tapped into and transformed into something that can prepare the child for his or her future. It can enable the child to shape that future in a way that will benefit the child throughout life.

The school completion programme is very important in ensuring that educational attainment is acquired by the young people in the different circumstances I refer to. This is an incredibly important programme for primary school children, for post-primary young people who have been identified as at risk of leaving school early, or for those who have left school early but have not transitioned into employment, training or college. The programme is aimed at stopping children and young people falling through the cracks, and especially at an age when ceasing education can have a huge impact on their future lives. It is also at an age when the capacity and potential of a child can prevent that damaging situation from occurring.

These are some of the reasons I believe the Bill to be important. The school completion programme must be child focused for it is this young person who will absorb that educational process in a way that can unlock the potential in that child. Since coming under the jurisdiction of Tusla, however, the focus of which I speak can become diluted in the overarching remit of Tusla and healthcare, and it can veer away from the child-centred and education centred approach. This can lead to situations in which a child who could otherwise have accessed the programme is not recommended a place. The Minister for Education's main focus is providing for the educational needs of children with all types of requirements and support needs, and I believe that our children must be best served by giving this level of governance and oversight of the school completion programme to the Department of Education.

While I have the opportunity I will also speak about delivering equality of opportunity in schools initiatives, DEIS, through which the school completion programme provides schools with key supports. For many schools in my constituency the DEIS programme is hugely appreciated and is seen as a very important factor in the education of children.

I have recently been in contact with the principal of a primary school in Tipperary who feels that many of the issues they face are in keeping with schools who are characterised as DEIS. That school principal is looking for support and advice in relation to becoming categorised as a DEIS school and is also anxious to see the results of the ongoing process around redefining the DEIS programme.

Schools are a fundamental part of every community in the State and, as such, engagement with these communities and updates on the progress being made in the development of a refined DEIS programme would be welcome.

Indirectly, I give that message to the Minister today. I urge the Minister for Education to engage with all stakeholders in our communities, as I believe there is a certain shortcoming in this regard.


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