Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Early School Leavers
The Life Centre in Cork was set up by the Christian Brothers a number of years ago and deals with young people who have dropped out of school. Some of these children are as young as ten years of age. At present, there are 45 children in the facility and more than 60 people work on a voluntary basis. These volunteers are either retired teachers, those who are studying for their higher diploma in education or social studies students who are assisting in providing one to one education for these 45 children. Last year, nine children sat the junior certification examination and two sat the applied leaving certificate.
The total funding the facility is getting from the Department of Education and Skills is €47,500 for the entire year. Up to last year, the Christian Brothers were able to provide €100,000 per annum but are no longer able to do so. A group has put together a package to provide the facility with €40,000 per year for the next ten years. A small amount of money is being given to it and it will not be able to remain open if it does not get adequate funding. Some €47,500 is not adequate and it needs State investment. It is getting some hours from the education and training board but it is not adequate.
Let me put this into context. In July, I visited Oberstown where are 46 detainees. My information is that 241 staff work there and it costs €350,000 per detainee per annum, whereas the total allocated to the Cork Life Centre is €47,500 for 45 students. That is not a fair funding level. If one of these children - I am not saying one will - ended up in Oberstown, the cost would be €350,000 for the student for the year.
By putting adequate funding into this facility, it can look after 45 children who otherwise would be on the street. The centre has the support of the local Garda and all the services. Even the school attendance officers are referring children the Cork Life Centre because the children do not fit into the school structure and are falling between two stools. This facility is helping a significant number of children. It is important it gets adequate funding so that it can continue to provide the support to these children.
I am requesting co-ordination between the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and, to some extent, the Department of Justice and Equality to ensure the project continues.
I thank Senator Burke for raising this important matter, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I welcome this opportunity to clarify the position of the Department of Education and Skills.
As Senator Burke will be aware, the Cork Life Centre is an out-of-school educational facility in Sundays Well, Cork, which supports young people who are not engaging with mainstream education. The Cork Life Centre was established by the Christian Brothers in 1996, with the assistance of the Holy Faith Sisters to provide education and other supports for young people between the ages of 12 and 18 years who are out of the mainstream school system. The centre prepares young people for the junior certificate and for other education and training pathways. In recent years, a number of young people have completed leaving certificate studies and accessed further and third level education.
The Department's contribution to the funding of the centre commenced in 2000 under the children at risk fund, CAR, and has continued to date to the current level of €47,500 in non-pay funding and 968 teaching hours at a cost of €81,840. This represents an overall annual total of €129,340. With the hours allocated, tutors are employed by the Cork Education and Training Board, ETB, to work in the centre and deliver tuition in subjects across the post-primary school curriculum.
The Minister for Education and Skills is aware that Cork Life Centre is currently experiencing financial difficulties due to a combination of a decision by its main funder, the Christian Brothers, to withdraw direct funding to the centre, and a decision by the centre to expand its enrolment. In this regard, it is important to note that the Department has not reduced its funding or support to the centre in recent years. Rather it has maintained its contribution to the cost of education provision to its current level of just over €129,000 per annum, broken down as I have outlined.
The Minister is also aware that the numbers attending the Cork Life Centre have increased in recent years. The life centre has advised the Department that the number of pupils enrolled in the centre has increased from 11 in 2009 to the current number of over 40 in the current school year. The Minister is advised that the pupil cohort currently attending the Life Centre includes referrals by Tusla's educational welfare and child and family services, the HSE's child and adult mental health service, CAMHS and other health professionals.
As Senator Burke is aware, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which provides educational welfare services is the statutory body with responsibility for the administration of educational welfare functions contained in the Education Welfare Act 2000. These include assisting parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child and ensuring school attendance, participation and retention for all pupils.Tusla is also responsible for the provision of supports for children in the care of its child and family services.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has confirmed to the Minister for Education and Skills that Tusla refers young people to the Life Centre because of their complexity of needs which are not only educational but also social and emotional and because of the multi-disciplinary and holistic approach of the centre. The Minister understands that young people attending the centre have access to a multi-disciplinary team providing counselling and therapy as well as access to an outreach drugs and alcohol worker.
Officials in the Department are currently engaging with the Cork Life Centre, Cork Education and Training Board and the Educational Welfare Service of Tusla to facilitate appropriate future educational supports for the cohort of pupils currently supported by the centre. The Minister has also asked them to seek the involvement of other Tusla services to consider the question of other supports provided by the centre. I will happily relay the Senator's comments to the Minister for Education and Skills.
I thank the Minister of State for that response. This is the first time I have seen the figure of €129,000. The Minister of State is correct in saying that 925 hours are allocated by the ETB but the problem with 925 hours is that it only equates to 1.5 teachers for the year for 45 students who have dropped out of school. These children have not fitted into the existing education system, as the Minister of State pointed out. A sum of €100,000 was being provided by the Christian Brothers for administrative and other supports for the people working at the centre. Were it not for the 16 people who are working there on a voluntary basis, the service would not be provided at all. All we are looking for is a bit of support.
I am not criticising the Minister of State or the Minister. In fairness to the Minister for Education and Skills, a representative from her office phoned me this morning to apologise for her absence this morning. I understand she is attending an EU meeting abroad and I fully appreciate her responsibility in that regard. However, we are now falling between three stools, that is, between the Departments of Justice and Equality, Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs. All I am saying is that if the centre is given adequate funding, it will save the Department of Justice and Equality a lot of money in the longer term. The Government must get its act together on this. The Life Centre provides a great service and the staff working there are hugely committed, particularly those who are working on a voluntary basis. The least we can do is give the centre a bit more support. We need the €100,000 the Christian Brothers were providing up until recently. The Government must replace that funding; otherwise, the facility cannot stay open. Simple issues like insurance, maintenance costs and so forth must be taken into account but the sum of €47,500 will not suffice. I ask that serious consideration be given to supporting the centre; otherwise, we will have 45 children on the streets of Cork who could end up going down the wrong road for the rest of their lives.
I thank Senator Burke for his remarks. As he has rightly stated, the Minister for Education and Skills would have liked to be here this morning but she is currently abroad on Government business. A key consideration for the Minister in this matter is the Department's policy of inclusion, where the objective is for children to be educated within the mainstream system to the greatest extent possible, although obviously that is not always possible. In this regard, it is important to note that the level of additional supports provided to schools to meet a range of additional educational pupil needs has increased significantly since the Department first began funding the Life Centre in 2000. The Minister must also take account of the Department's funding of national programmes catering for early school leavers in the Cork area. It is very important that the supports provided by the Department to schools are fully availed of by students who need them, both to ensure value for the investment being made and in recognition of the importance of early intervention in meeting individual needs.
The Minister is committed to working with her colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to ensure the particular needs of this student cohort can be met. It is my understanding that the numbers attending the Life Centre have increased in recent years to accommodate referrals of young people to the centre by a number of other State agencies, including Tusla, the HSE and private practitioners, in order that these young people can avail of the particular range of excellent services offered by the centre. These include counselling and therapeutic services, which are considered to be of particular benefit.
The Minister has assured me that she will work with her colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to ensure the needs of these students are met. I am sure the Senator will have an opportunity to pursue the matter further with the Ministers for Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs.
I thank the Minister of State for his remarks. I ask him to relay to the Department of Education and Skills the suggestion that it gives the centre some funding on a pilot project basis. The Life Centre and others centres in the country were set up on a pilot basis to determine the best way to deal with children who have dropped out of the mainstream system.