Three ABC anti-child poverty programmes in Dublin in doubt
Tallaght, Ballymun, Darndale projects warned as Atlantic Philanthropies funds withdrawn
Junior Infants teacher Caitriona Nic Grianna running the Dina in the classroom program with Wally the Puppet at Gael Scoil Baile Munna. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
The future of three flagship anti-child poverty programmes, in some of the most deprived areas of Dublin, is in doubt.
The three Area Based Childhood (ABC) programmes – the Child Development Initiative in west Tallaght, Young Ballymun in Ballymun and Preparing for Life in Darndale – have dramatically improved literacy rates and socioemotional outcomes for thousands of children in poverty since their inception a decade ago.
They received funding of €50 million – half from Atlantic Philanthropies and half from the Department of Children – since 2007.
However, following the withdrawal of Atlantic Philanthropies from Ireland last year, the projects have been told to “prudently plan for the ending of the current contractual arrangements”.
Though the department says the “learning” from the projects will be “transferred into existing services”, many within them fear the hard-won benefits will be lost.
Eleanor McClorey, chief executive of the largest project, Young Ballymun, is passionate about what has been achieved and is adamant that if it shuts this year much of its work will slowly be undone.
She points to “huge disadvantages the children in this area face” from the moment they are born. “No child chooses where they are born or who their parents are. Young Ballymun is intervening, with proven results, to bridge the gap between the theory of equality of opportunity, to bring about some reality of equality of outcome.”
Data from the independent agency Pobal shows babies born in Ballymun come into a community with a male unemployment rate of 58 per cent, where 4.6 per cent of the population have a third-level qualification, 37 per cent have a primary-level education only and 66 per cent will be in a lone-parent household.
In west Tallaght, the male unemployment rate is 50 per cent, 4.7 per cent of the population has a third-level education, 23 per cent a primary-level education only and 43 per cent of children are in households with a lone parent.
In Darndale, the male unemployment rate is 45 per cent, 2.8 per cent have a third-level education, 36 per cent a primary-level education only, and 64 per cent of children are in lone-parent households. The three areas are all classed as “very disadvantaged”.
The three projects work slightly differently in each location, though each aims essentially to intervene with community-based services, delivered through public health nurses, speech and language therapists, in health centres, playgroups and the national schools.
In Ballymun, alongside literacy and language classes for parents, specialised programmes in the 11 primary schools focus on improving literacy and numeracy and reducing behavioural problems.
Analysis of literacy data from 2007 to 2015 shows the number of children in Ballymun in need of learning support (ie scoring below the 10th percentile) has halved from 25 per cent of children to 12 per cent. The proportion of children with reading difficulties had reduced by one-third while the proportion scoring at or above the 50th percentile has doubled from 19 per cent of pupils to 37.5 per cent.
Ray Ó Díomasaigh, principal of Gaelscoil Bhaile Munna since 1996, says Young Ballymun has transformed not just literacy scores, but children’s behaviour. All teachers in Ballymun have undergone additional training to deliver the project’s programmes.
One is “Dina in the classroom”, where the teacher, joined by a hand-puppet dinosaur, talks to the infant classes about emotions and how to manage them.
“We have seen a huge decline in conduct problems, hyperactivity, bullying. The children are calmer, the school is a happier place and the children and parents are more engaged in the curriculum.”
“For the first time in 20 years, last year we had no children in the lowest 10th percentile for reading. That may seem like a small achievement to many, but for us it’s a significant step.”
Ms McClorey is urging the next government to commit to supporting the projects long-term, and to establish more initiatives like them across the State.
The number of children in consistent poverty nationally almost doubled under the outgoing Government, to 11 per cent last year.
Minister for Children James Reilly described child poverty as one of the two most pressing children’s rights issues when he addressed the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva last month. The other, he said, was child homelessness.
A spokesman said the department had established a group to explore how best to mainstream learning from the ABC programmes.
“The department is actively working with a convened group . . . in the development of an initiative which can embed and enhance evidence-informed prevention and early intervention approaches in established systems and supports for children and young people.”