Tusla decision to cut counselling funding has ‘savage consequences’

19.04.2017 Michael Smyth, Impact education divisional executive and Gina O'Brien, Impact education divisional chair, at the Impact education division conference at the Clayton City Hotel, Cork. Picture: David Keane.
Michael Smyth of IMPACT’s education divisional executive is a School Completion Programme officer.

IMPACT has criticised a decision by Tusla, the child and family agency, over a decision to cut all funding for counselling services to the School Completion Programme (SCP). The cuts take effect from 1st September.

SCP worker Michael Smyth criticised the move during a speech to delegates at IMPACT’s education conference in Cork this afternoon. “The rationale? They told us, we can’t give it to all programmes, so we’re not going to give it to any School Completion Programme.

“This is an infantile explanation for a decision with savage consequences. Where it hits hardest there are no alternative services available, so the message this sends to the most disadvantaged children in the country is that they’re on their own,” he said.

The School Completion Programme was established in 2002 and provides strategic support to vulnerable children, enabling them to complete their second level education. The programme was devised by the then Department of Education and Science in 2002 and moved to the newly formed Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2011. It was subsumed into Tusla in 2014.

The programme is made up of 124 local projects, which work in 470 primary schools and 224 secondary schools nationwide.

The Economic and Social Research Institute published its report into the School Completion Programme in October 2015. The ESRI study highlighted the programme’s ability to access vital information about the family and home life of children in the programme, the opportunities arising from a less formal communication with children and parents, and the immediate support from the SCP counselling service.

Mr Smyth added, “The ESRI report came after years of very damaging cuts, which means we operate now with only two thirds of the funding we began with in 2002. Those cuts forced many SCPs to suspend some elements of the programme, and as you can see, that slash and burn approach continues despite our best efforts.”

The programme received €32m in funding in 2002. It now has an annual budget of €24m. The ESRI found that the cuts curtailed SCP provision at a time of growing need, and that the pattern of funding cuts was at odds with international evidence that early intervention is more successful – and more cost effective – than remedial intervention when young people drop-out of education.

Mr Smyth added that the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD, in his address to conference last night, had conceded that “too many of our children still fall through the cracks, and are in danger of being left behind.”