Spotlight on Children- tackling educational disadvantage and child poverty

Last week Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre participated in a number of events highlighting urgent concerns in relation to child poverty. Pavee Point continues to advocate for the collection of disaggregated ethnic data, which is essential to tackle educational disadvantage and child poverty among Traveller and Roma children.

Urgent Action Needed to Address Child Poverty
Children Right’s Alliance reports that one in five children experienced deprivation in 2023 in Ireland

Findings from the Children’s Rights Alliance’s Poverty Monitor released earlier this week have shown that one fifth of children experienced deprivation last year. This figure translates to around an additional 30,000 children who experienced poverty in 2023 and represents an 18% increase when compared to 2022. The report identifies the need for mainstreaming and targeted measures to address Traveller and Roma inequalities.

While Pavee Point acknowledges and commends the work undertaken by the Children’s Rights Alliance, significant gaps remain in relation to disaggregated data on the basis of ethnicity. Without data disaggregated on the basis of ethnicity we cannot provide the evidence to highlight the existence of systemic or indirect discrimination and inform good policy and practice.

We know from numerous reports that Traveller and Roma children are disproportionately impacted by poverty with the Roma National Needs Assessment (2018) reporting:

  • 1 in 4 Roma children (25%) have gone to school hungry.
  • Almost half (49.5%) of Roma reported not always having enough food.
  • Almost 1 in 5 Roma reported begging as a source of income (17.6%) and have no income (14%).
  • 57.5% report not having enough money for school books and uniforms.

Equal Start – A plan to support access and participation in early learning and care, and school-age childcare for children who experience disadvantage

Stephanie McDermott, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre Education Programme Co-ordinator, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD, Tanya Ward, CEO of Children’s Rights Alliance

Child poverty figures were published in tandem with the launch of Equal Start, a funding model and a set of associated universal and targeted measures from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to support access and participation in early learning and care (ELC) and school-age childcare (SAC) for children and their families who experience disadvantage.

Among targeted measures to tackle Traveller and Roma educational disadvantages:

  • Appointment of six Family Link Workers to support the full roll out of the Traveller Parenting Support Programme to all 17 Tusla areas, with new responsibilities on Family Link Workers to engage with Traveller parents of children aged 1-5 years, supporting them to attend and participate in early learning and childcare, avail of the ECCE programme and where applicable applying for the NCS (National Childcare Scheme)
  • Appointment of Traveller and Roma Advisory Specialists to work in Better Start.

Speaking about Equal Start, Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, there was evidence from other countries that if children are given food, clothing and support they do better “from the very start”, adding that it was a way of “rewriting the future”.

Equal Start is a step in the right direction, however, it is crucial now that the final National Traveller and Roma Education Strategy (TRES) addresses inclusion of Travellers and Roma at all levels of the education system. From the 2022 census, we know that despite the first COVID outbreak and lockdown, Traveller enrolment levels at primary and post primary were maintained; there was also a notable increase in Transition Year and Leaving Cert enrolments. However, attendance and attainment levels have been affected by COVID and that disaggregated data based on ethnicity is essential to create effective targeted initiatives to address this.

Taoiseach Simon Harris hosts the inaugural Child Poverty and Well-being Summit with 300 participants from Irish CSOs

Martin Collins, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre Co-Director, and The Right Honourable Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister

On Thursday 23rd May, Pavee Point Co-Director, Martin Collins, and Mental Health Coordinator, Patrick Reilly, participated in the Child Poverty and Wellbeing Summit, which provided space for participants to reflect, identify and respond to the key challenges relating to child poverty and well-being. Panel inputs addressed how child poverty interacts with the role of the arts, climate justice, and the economy, and in the afternoon participants discussed a wide range of practical challenges in key areas such as income and jobs, early years, education, homelessness, participation, health and mental health, and services. Pavee Point facilitated a roundtable discussion on the alarming suicide rates and poor mental health amongst Traveller children. The Right Honourable, Gordon Brown, opened the summit.

Pa Reilly, Pavee Point Mental Health Co-ordinator, at the Child Poverty and Wellbeing Summit, Thursday 24th May

A specific commitment in the government’s Poverty to Potential: A Programme Plan for Child Well-being 2023-2025 is to focus on child poverty and child well-being in the annual Budget. The Programme Office adopts a cross-government approach and will seek to support and deepen the focus on child poverty and well-being in Budget 2025. Collecting disaggregated data on Travellers and Roma, and tackling child poverty, are crucial factors in improving outcomes for Traveller and Roma children. The Government needs to set clear and time bound targets specific to poverty reduction among Traveller and Roma children in both targeted policy measures, for example, in the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) and mainstream policy measures. One policy measure to combat child poverty, championed by Pavee Point, is the introduction of a Universal Child Benefit payment to ensure all children residing in the State, including Roma children, can access Child Benefit payments regardless of the legal or administrative status of their parents.