Homelessness in the Classroom

External practice
Homelessness in the classroom
Homelessness in the classroom

Duration

Report published in 2019 (and practices outlined in the document are ongoing in Irish Primary Schools)

Partnership

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation worked in collaboration with Focus Ireland on the publication of ‘Homelessness in the Classroom’.

Reason it was developed

Focus Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) produced this guidance resource for primary school teachers and principals who are supporting students and families who are homeless or at risk. This document aims to highlight the reality of homelessness and its impact on children’s education as well as offering some practical suggestions about how schools can support pupils and sharing some good practice already happening in schools. Figures issued by the Department of Housing in 2019 showed that 3,778 children were homeless which marked an increase of over 400% in the space of 5 years. Figures also highlighted how the crisis sadly spread to many cities nationwide with over 500 families and 1,000 children homeless outside of Dublin. Focus Ireland called for the Government to review its policies dealing with child homelessness and stated that such a review must examine very carefully how children are being treated in the homeless crisis. A survey carried out by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) in 2019 found that more than one in four primary schools across the State reported having children who are homeless and suffering from anxiety, poor self-esteem and exhaustion. A survey of more than 1,000 school principals found that 27 per cent of primary schools have homeless children. INTO members across the country are acutely aware of the problem of homelessness and concerned about the escalation of the crisis. They witness the impact on pupils in their class every day as it manifests itself in pupils’ school attendance, punctuality, academic achievement, participation, social engagement and educational aspirations. In recent years, homelessness has been a key priority area for the INTO as our members have adopted resolutions at Annual Congress in an effort to raise awareness and to work towards a solution to homelessness. The INTO has long called for action on homelessness as more children struggle in school. In particular, the organisation has called for additional resources, ring-fenced funding and advice and guidance for teachers who are working with pupils experiencing homelessness. The provision of such support for teachers is needed as matter of urgency, but in light of the afore-mentioned rapid rise in homelessness on a national level and its prevalence among school-going children, INTO worked with Focus Ireland to develop this practical guidance in an effort to better support teachers.

Activities

1. Research A report commissioned by the Children’s Rights Alliance, HomeWorks, Found that consistent routines and responsive schools often offered children a sense of stability and continuity amid the uncertainty of family homelessness. The report showed that simple goodwill gestures on the part of schools made all the difference to pupils and their families. These included making allowances for pupils being late, giving less homework and providing children with basic school materials. The root cause of the current homelessness crisis is a broken housing system. Ireland does not have public housing stock sufficient to meet the needs of society. In response to a chronic shortage of housing, the Government has resorted to subsidising private rented accommodation for those in need of social housing. The private rented sector is also struggling with a severe lack of supply, and families who would otherwise qualify for public housing are forced into competition with the rest of the market. According to Focus Ireland research, the overwhelming number of families becoming homeless had their last stable accommodation in the private rented sector. Many of these families have never experienced homelessness before. Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 provides the current definition of homelessness. It states that a person should be considered homeless if: a) There is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of, or b) He is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a), and c) He cannot provide accommodation from his own resources. 2. Members’ voice Teachers reported that they often feel helpless, powerless, and ill-equipped to effectively respond to, and support, pupils who are experiencing homelessness. The purpose of the resource document prepared by INTO in collaboration with Focus Ireland was to share suggestions on good practice for teachers who are supporting families and children who are experiencing homelessness. Teachers fulfil a constant role in children’s lives, and they are the first port of call for families who are struggling. Notwithstanding their vital role, teachers cannot be expected to meet the many challenges of homelessness alone nor can they fill the vacuum caused by a lack of funding, resources, and services in the system. 3. Support for homeless families Local authorities would provide emergency accommodation on a ‘humanitarian basis’ but this is generally only for a single night at a time. Families self-accommodating may also be on night-by-night accommodation. These families and children are particularly vulnerable. They are experiencing the trauma of having to secure accommodation each day, unsure of where they will be sleeping each night. It may take until late in the evenings to secure accommodation. Sometimes families are unable to find accommodation and may have to present to a Garda station as a place of safety. Understandably, there will be a negative impact on the school life of a child in one of these very difficult situations. Family Hubs are an example of a new policy developed as a response to the primary use of commercial hotels as emergency accommodation. 4. Basic needs Children experiencing homelessness may reside in accommodation that undermines their basic needs. Teachers find it difficult to prioritise the educational needs of children who are experiencing homelessness when basic needs are not being met. Educational needs can become secondary to the pupil’s emotional and mental health needs. Children’s play is significantly restricted in homeless accommodation. Play promotes healthy brain development, allows children to engage and interact with the world around them, helps them conquer fears, allows them to practice adult roles, teaches them skills such as working in groups, conflict resolution, decision-making, sharing and negotiating, allows them to move at their own pace, teaches them about their personal likes and dislikes, and helps build the confidence and resilience that they will need to face future challenges. While schools cannot provide all the basic needs in place of a stable home, many schools were making (and continue to make) efforts and small gestures to facilitate children and families where possible. 5. INTO and Focus Ireland guidance for schools Practical suggestions for schools to support children and families in meeting their basic needs • Discreetly provide access to clean clothes/upcycled uniforms if required. • Make basic hygiene supplies available e.g. toothbrush, hairbrush. • Provide a nap room/quiet corner with beanbags. • Make nutritious snacks available in the school, particularly if there is no access to breakfast clubs/school meals. • Provide extra opportunities for physical activity in the yard to help alleviate the • impact of not having access to recreational facilities after school. • Consul school’s Child Protection Policy where there is a concern about a pupil’s welfare. 6. Resources to support guidance for teachers The suggestions contained within this school resource will not suit every school context and may need to be adjusted to respond to the individual pupils in your school given your unique context. Additionally, the document is supplemented with an online resource which sets out some of the external agencies and supports which are available for families who are experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. To supplement this guidance document, INTO and Focus Ireland also developed an online resource where primary school teachers will find links to local agencies and services that can provide support to families and children. This can be accessed via the Teacher Resource section of the Focus Ireland website: www.focusireland.ie https://www.focusireland.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Homelessness-in-the-Classroom.pdf https://www.focusireland.ie/get-involved/schools/teaching-resources/service-supports-for-schools/ 7. Online campaign to raise awareness of Homelessness, February 2020 The 2020 Human Rights Action Day sponsored by INTO Global Citizenship School was titled #AHomeForEveryone. INTO’s Global Citizenship School reached out to teachers and schools to encourage engagement with the theme of Human Rights, by organising a lesson in their class, or all classes in their school and to create a short, simple video of pupils talking about homelessness. INTO highlighted the importance of sharing the perspectives of our students on this social injustice. In promoting this activity among members, INTO emphasised the importance of discretion, recognising that there may be children in the class/school who are homeless but who do not wish to be identified as homeless. Photographs of school action were shared on social media on the day - Friday, 14 February (with relevant parental permission) to #AHomeForEveryone (copying in @intonews). https://sites.google.com/view/globalcitizenshipschool

Results

Early identification and intervention are critical for children at risk of homelessness. Implementing preventative and early intervention strategies to support student engagement and address individual barriers to learning is a key part of mitigating the impact of homelessness on educational attainment. INTO call on the department to end its inertia on this topic and give schools the extra ring fenced resources and guidance they demand and need.

Links

Ireland
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