There are three main reasons why any society should invest in its children: 1. It just should; 2. Children are the future – healthy, well-rounded, educated children are the basis of future prosperity; and 3: if you neglect children they become an almighty nuisance as and when they grow up.
Therefore whether you are left, right or centre there are compelling reasons why we should look after our children. So the news that children in Dublin are going to school hungry is a scandal any way you look at it.
However, it is not news to anyone working in the poorer areas of this city. And not news to anyone who really opens their eyes. It can be observed in kids going to school obviously underweight and perished in the winter.
Why it happens is open to question but the domestic circumstances of these children are not ideal. In some cases there is direct neglect due to the abuse of drugs or alcohol. In some cases there is an absence of parenting skills.
But it happens. In a study published by the Educational Disadvantage Centre at St Patrick’s College almost one in five children attending certain schools in the west of Dublin reported being too hungry to work in school.
There is almost no point in these children being at school in these circumstances. They can’t concentrate and they are likely to be restless and agitated, with all the discipline problems that brings. What happens then is that these children fall behind and then become isolated from the mainstream in their class.
And this is happening where communities are already under pressure from deprivation and where there is a very high rate of early school leaving.
The solution to these problems is a simple dose of good old-fashioned socialism: breakfasts should be provided for them by the State. Breakfast clubs have already been set up in various places by charities like St Vincent De Paul and Bernardos, so it can de done.
The children most at risk are in the RAPID areas around the city. This is why the RAPID schemes were set up in the first place and it is a damning indictment of the underfunding of these schemes that there is still rampant educational disadvantage.
The RAPID schemes have the capacity to transform the poorer areas of Dublin and the lives of the children living there. They need much smaller classes to overcome the disadvantages they face. They need more support and specialist teachers. They need homework clubs and one-to-one support for these children. And they need to ensure that children are nourished enough to take advantage of their schooling.
All this takes money. But that’s no problem, Ireland has loads of it. That our children are going to school hungry in this time of plenty is absolutely disgraceful.
But let’s not ask for justice. Let’s ask ourselves what happens when we fail to invest in our children, especially in the most vulnerable children. How will these educational failures provide for themselves in the knowledge economy?
Let’s watch as the jails fill up, as the homeless multiply, as the rehab beds are taken, as petty crime ruins the quality of life for us all.
What is really the cost of a child’s breakfast?