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NCI backs call for children to be an election priority

The Early Learning Initiative at National College of Ireland hosted a cross political breakfast discussion today at the college’s IFSC campus in Dublin, to support and raise awareness of the Hands Up for Children Campaign.

Chaired by Dr Phillip Matthews, President of NCI, the discussion featured local public representatives, including Kevin Humphreys, Minister for Employment, Community and Social Support; Paschal Donohue TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport; and Maureen O’Sullivan, Independent TD along with the Hands up for Children spokesperson, Marian Quinn.

The Hands up for Children campaign is calling for preventative and early interventions for children and families to be a priority in the next programme for government.

A coalition of organisations from around the country, Hands Up for Children is seeking political parties and Independent candidates to adopt its 5 Thriving Childhood Principles which set out a case for increased investment in early intervention and for realigning resources from crisis to prevention. The campaign is also inviting support from wider organisations and individuals.

Hands up for Children Chairperson Marian Quinn has said decision makers have choices and can commit to children: “Looking after our children, or not, is a policy decision – simple as that. And to date, our Government has chosen not to see our future generation as a core priority”.

Today’s cross political party discussion on the election commitments for the children’s sector, including early intervention services, was organised by the Early Learning Initiative (ELI), National College of Ireland, as part of the Hands Up for Children campaign.

At the event, Minister Kevin Humphreys praised the impact of the work of the Early Learning Initiative team in the Docklands. The ELI is a community-based educational initiative aimed at addressing educational disadvantage through the provision of an integrated programme for children, their parents and families, and educators from early years up to third level.

Over 4,600 children, parents, professionals and volunteers in the college’s local area are involved in ELI with satisfaction rates of 99% across all programmes in 2014-15. Children’s oral language, literacy and numeracy skills are improving and young people’s aspirations for the future have never been higher.

Dr Josephine Bleach, Director of the Early Learning Initiative at National College of Ireland said they were supporting the Hands Up for Children Campaign because without early intervention, generations of children’s life chances have been determined before they enter formal education.

“At three years of age, there are already big differences in language and mathematical development between children from rich and poor backgrounds. This gap continues to widen, if it is not addressed before children start pre-school. Through the Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme, the Government is directly helping children and young people in the Docklands and East Inner City to reach their full potential in all areas of learning and development, thereby ensuring that education is at the heart of a more cohesive, more equal and more successful society, and the engine of sustainable growth.

We would like this support to be sustained and developed as part of the next Programme for Government. Support from various Government Departments, in particular the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Education and Skills and their Agencies is critical if organisations like the Early Learning Initiative and its partners are to address the key educational and social issues, which impact on children and their families in the communities in which we work.”

The campaign is calling on the next government to commit to the following:
1. Provide Universal access to family support programmes - Give every parent in the country with access to a proven parenting programme in their area, and redeploy, recruit and support 600 “child and family” Public Health Nurses dedicated to child health to work within Primary Care teams.
2. Increase investment in Prevention and Early Intervention Programmes to €20 million a year (Currently the annual government investment in the Area Based Childhood Programme is €5 million a year).
3. Increase budget of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, by 10%. A 5% increase is needed (31.75 million) to resolve the current deficit, and a further 5% to assist Tusla in providing preventative supports to children and families.
4. Bring investment in early years care and education up to the OECD average of 0.8% of GDP (up from the current level of 0.2% of GDP).
5. Require all government departments to reorient their planning and budgeting to incorporate prevention and early intervention approaches – and to report on this annually.

Facts and figures
• Ireland invests 0.2% of GDP in early years services well below the OECD average of 0.8%
• 12% of Irish children are living in consistent poverty
• By age 13, one in three Irish children will have experienced a mental health difficulty
• 15-20% of Irish nine year olds experience significant emotional and behavioural problems
• One in four Irish children are overweight or obese.

Find out more about the Early Learning Initiative at NCI.