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Equal education for refugee children – Ombudsman for Children

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, has expressed his concern about the provision of education for Syria programme refugee children living in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres in Ireland. Niall was speaking following the publication in early February of the Findings of Joint Inspectorate and National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Visits to Education Settings in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs).

“These centres were set up as short term homes as part of an initial orientation period for 3-4 months for these families pending their re-settlement in other parts of the country. However a number of families are now living in these centres for much longer than originally envisioned, with some families living for up to nine months in these centres. The education provision in these centres was never set up for this length of stay.

“In 2017, we visited the three Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) then in operation. During our visits, we discovered that schools in EROCs are not recognised by the Department of Education and Skills. This means that it can be much more difficult for the centres to access the additional supports needed to maximise educational outcomes for these children. During our visits parents expressed to us concerns about the education being provided to their children. Those who had been in EROCs for more than six months were anxious to get their children into mainstream schools; they were concerned that their children were not getting access to other services such as nurses or dentists as they were not in school, and in some centres they were concerned that children were not receiving appropriate instruction for their age.

“I wrote to the Department expressing my concerns and in response the DES outlined the work underway by NEPS and the DES Inspectorate which has resulted in this published report. I note with interest its recommendations and especially the suite of actions agreed between the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Justice and Equality and Tusla’s Educational Welfare Services.

“In particular while this report acknowledges the quality of teaching and learning in these centres, I support the recommendation that children’s attendance at these schools should be time-limited to a maximum of three months and children, especially post primary children, are placed in local mainstream schools without delay pending their resettlement.

“I also note the agreement that these children should not be adversely affected due to the lack of recognition of these education centres as schools. In particular I welcome the commitment that children will have equal access to all necessary supports as other children in recognised schools including access to National Council for Special Education Supports and NEPS.

“However it is important that these commitments are followed through on. In particular the Department of Education and Skills should build on their plan to enable and encourage local schools to enrol these children and ensure additional resources are provided so that school communities and leaders can meet the needs of these children.

“I recognise the progress that has been made in addressing the issue but I will continue to seek updates from the relevant agencies to ensure equity in educational outcomes for these children.”

ENDS

Note to Editors

  • The Ombudsman for Children’s Office is an independent statutory body with an overall mandate to promote the rights and welfare of children under the age of 18 living in Ireland.
  • Among the Ombudsman for Children’s core statutory functions is the independent and impartial investigation of complaints made by, or on behalf of, children in relation to public bodies, as well as organisations providing services on behalf of the State.