Thursday, 21 January 2016
Department of Education and Skills
138. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a facility (details supplied) in County Cork; why it is not the subject of whole-school evaluation; if she will work with it to secure its financial future given the excellent and necessary service it delivers to families and young adults in difficult circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2568/16]
As the Deputy 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. My 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.
I am aware that the 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 my 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.
I am 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 the Deputy may be aware, TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency (EWS) 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. Other functions of TUSLA include responsibility for the provision of supports for children in the care of its Child and Family Services.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs have confirmed to me 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 multidisciplinary and holistic approach of the Centre. I understand that young people attending the Centre have access to a multidisciplinary team providing counselling and therapy as well as access to an outreach drugs and alcohol worker.
Officials of my Department are currently engaging with the Cork Life Centre, Cork ETB and the Educational Welfare Service of TUSLA to facilitate appropriate future educational supports for the cohort of pupils currently supported by the Life Centre. I have also asked them to seek the involvement of other Tusla services to consider the question of other supports provided by the Centre.
A key consideration for me in this matter is my Department's policy of inclusion, where the objective is for children to be educated within the mainstream system to the greatest extent 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 my Department's first began funding the Life Centre in 2000. I must also take account of my Department's funding of national programmes catering for early school leavers in the Cork area.
It is very important that the supports provided by my 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 need.
I am committed to working with my colleague the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to ensure that the particular needs of this student cohort can be met.