Ireland ranks amongst the most socially unjust countries in the developed world because of inadequate childhood services and generational inequality. Tentative steps were taken to address this situation by a previous government before the recession struck. Especially deprived areas were chosen in Dublin and Limerick for multi-disciplinary intervention, involving pre-school and follow-up educational programmes, improved health services, family supports and additional community facilities. It didn’t last. Worse than that, childhood programmes in three of Dublin’s most deprived districts are now being wound down following the withdrawal of partial funding by Atlantic Philanthropies.
These long-awaited government interventions were based on solid evidence that social investment, particularly where children-at-risk are concerned, more than pays for itself. Joblessness, drug gangs and deprivation are common factors in city areas that produce the great bulk of juvenile offenders and prison inmates. Yet, when it comes to responding to crime or anti-social behaviour, the root causes of youth disaffection are ignored and money is pumped into the policing and prison systems.
The anti-poverty child programmes at Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale are understood to have dramatically improved literacy rates amongst pupils while reducing behavioural problems. Providing children with the necessary skills to become productive citizens is a core commitment by all governments. But these special schools are now threatened with closure following the departure of Atlantic Philanthropies. Funding is an obvious consideration, but the official excuse is that “learning” from the projects will be transferred into “existing services”. Such an outcome is highly unlikely, given existing educational structures.The pilot projects in this scheme should be introduced into other communities, rather than shut down. If the grip of disadvantage, drugs, poverty and crime on deprived districts is to be broken, children must be offered a way of breaking free.