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«The Invisible Students Young Parents in Education By Sinéad Riordan, The Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology ...»

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5.2. Financial supports available to young parents in education The financial support offered through the social welfare system can play a major role in a young parent’s decision to return, continue or resume participation in education or training. The availability and extent of financial support for young parents can act as an enabling factor or a barrier to their participation in education. This section describes the administration of the welfare benefits scheme and discusses the impact it may have on young parents’ decisions as to whether or not to remain in mainstream second level education.

At present, many young parents (particularly young mothers) are often forced to choose between being full-time parents or students. This is particularly evident in the operation of the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA), administered by the Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA) as part of the Back to Education Programme. The BTEA is primarily designed to facilitate ‘second chance’ education at a range of levels for persons aged 21 years plus who are unemployed for at 38 least six months and in receipt of welfare benefits. Young parents aged between 18 – 20 years, in receipt of the OFP and who are 2 years out of formal education can also apply for the BTEA. The allowance enables recipients to pursue approved full-time and part-time education courses at second, further and third level while retaining an allowance in lieu of social welfare entitlement.25 Those claiming the BTEA who are getting for example, the OFP receive an allowance at a rate equivalent to the maximum rate of their current social welfare payment. A key benefit of the BTEA is that its recipients retain their entitlement to secondary benefits (for example, rent supplement) for the duration of their course and may receive an annual allowance towards the cost of their studies which is payable at the start of each academic year.26 However, the BTEA is not available to persons aged less than 18 years who wish to return to education regardless of type of school or training programme they wish to follow.

Similarly, the administrative system of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) can act as a disincentive to return to mainstream education particularly for those aged less than 18 years.

Section 172 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act (1993) debars all persons engaged in full-time education from receipt of supplementary allowances. Therefore, if a young parent aged less than 18 years is in full-time education at the time of application for the OFP, they are not automatically entitled to receive any form of supplementary welfare allowance while they await receipt of the OFP.27 Young parents not in full-time education are legally entitled to apply for such allowances.28 This can create what Lynch (2000) calls the ‘push’ factor to leave education particularly where the young parents wider family does not have the income to financially support their choice to return to education. The Act allows for appeal and while under ‘exceptional circumstances’ a young parent in full-time education may receive SWA while awaiting payment of the OFP, in reality where the young parent resides within the family home it is unlikely that the appeal would be granted.29 The lengthy period of time required for the processing of such appeals has also been criticised by persons working with young parents.30 Anecdotal evidence also suggests that difficulties can arise for pregnant teenagers and teenage parents who are participating in training schemes such as Youthreach. Training allowances are available for participation in such schemes however, ongoing participation is required in order to 25 Education and training options approved under the programme include: Second Level Certificate Courses; Third Level Education Courses; Education, Training and Development Courses; and, Part-time Education Courses.

26 In 2000/2001, the allowance was £200 (euro 253.95) (DSFA, SW 70:6).

27 This is not withstanding the fact that any SWA payments received while awaiting the OPFP are deducted from the ‘back amount’ due once the application is processed.

28 Personal communication with Dublin TPSI project worker 29 The exclusion of young parents in education from receiving SWA is heavily influenced by the operation of the Child Dependent Allowance system which allows a parent/guardian to receive an allowance until their child is 18 or 21 (if in full-time education). The assumption is that the parent/guardian is responsible for the welfare (including financial) of the young parent until then (personal communication, DSCFA, October 2001)

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training schemes in conjunction with a general absence of crèche facilities, are key critical factors that work to exclude many young parents who may otherwise be eligible to attend.

receive this allowance and the schemes do not provide for maternity leave. It appears that some young parents choose to return to such schemes very quickly following birth. This ‘quick’ return was explained as being due to the difference in financial support available through discretionary payments from the Community Welfare Officer (CWO) while awaiting processing of the OFP and that received when participating in a training scheme. Some young parents may be substantially ‘better off’ in receipt of a training allowance and this acts a ‘push’ to their returning.

For young parents (aged less than 20 years) who go on to third-level education, financial difficulties often arise. A key obstacle is the fact that third-level participants are assessed for grants on the basis of their parents’ income. This can cause particular difficulties for those who may no longer be in regular contact with their own parents. An additional barrier faced is the loss of secondary benefits incurred once a young parent is a registered full-time student in third level education. Young parents in full-time third level education without any significant, previous absence from participation in education (that is, not disengaged from education for 2 years or more) cannot receive for example, rent or rent/mortgage interest supplement. The loss or retention of these benefits can have a major impact on young parents’ incentive to participate in third-level education. If, on the other hand, a parent aged 19 years who had dropped out of education for two years but now wishes to return to, education would probably be entitled to the BTEA and also retain any secondary benefits they are entitled to.

5.3. Limitations to existing schemes and initiatives While the schemes detailed in the previous sections have many positive features it is clear that alternative education and training opportunities for young parents (particularly those aged less than 16 years) remain limited. There are acknowledged gaps in current provision for the education of young parents.

The ‘school hours’ pattern of provision followed by many education and training schemes in conjunction with a general absence of crèche facilities, are key critical factors that work to exclude many young parents who may otherwise be eligible to attend.31 A number of commentators have called for a move away from the dominance of full-time programmes within these structures (McCashin, 1997; Green Paper, 1998). Other criticisms include the lack of clarity regarding the objectives of such programmes (most notably Youthreach, see ESF, 1996) and the limited availability of data on outcomes for participants particularly in terms of formal qualifications attained. The lack of data is key as it renders it difficult to judge if these programmes have the potential to upgrade the general educational profile of teenage parents (McCashin, 1997).

Additionally, pregnant or parenting teenagers who are refugees, asylum seekers or non-nationals face particular difficulties at present in accessing alternative education, particularly training 31 A childcare measure was introduced in 1998 for Youthreach, VTOS and Senior Traveller programmes. Some 997 (795 participants) are benefiting from this measure in 2000/2001 (DES, 2001).

40 schemes and courses provided by VECs. The system whereby many VEC services are funded by the European Social Fund means that the majority of non-nationals (depending on their category) are not permitted free access to these services (IVEA, 2001).

The restrictions on the BTEA effectively exclude young parents who may not wish to return to their school due to negative school experiences or for whom traditional full-time school hours conflict with their wish to combine parenting and education. This may increase the vulnerability of young parents to permanent detachment from education as they are not eligible to use Youthreach or participate in Adult Education Centres as they can ‘in principle’ attend their local secondary school. In addition, the BTEA is not payable for the intervening period between courses. This can result in a situation where, for some young parents, it makes more ‘money sense’ to defer or postpone participation in education (particularly third-level education) until they are aged 18 years plus and have been disengaged from formal education for at least 2 years. They would then be entitled to receive full secondary benefits and the BTEA.

Therefore, avenues that might be expected to address the education and training needs of young parents are not specifically designed to do so resulting in a system of provision that is far from seamless. A number of agencies potentially have a role to play in supporting policy development in this area therefore, partnership working arrangements between voluntary and statutory agencies could act as a central mechanism to progress the development of ‘joined up’ policy and practice (McCashin, 1997). It is suggested that inter-agency links and joint initiatives be strongly encouraged. Such initiatives could be developed between mainstream second level schools, FÁS, health and welfare services, Area Partnerships, Local Employment Services and employers. It is recognised that such an approach would require considerable innovation and flexibility by school authorities, particularly in their dealings with young parents.

The recently established National Educational Welfare Board could play a key role in responding to the challenge of providing co-ordinated responses to the needs of young parents aged less than 17 years. It is hoped that it will drive the continued development of evidence based policy in the area of education. It is envisaged that it will be strongly positioned to complement and extend existing cross-departmental initiatives and to support the development of policies and service provision for young parents in education and training, due to its wide-ranging brief and its broad representation of voluntary and statutory agencies and representative bodies.

Section six

Supporting young parentsin education: work of TPSIpilot projects42

6. Introduction

The Teen Parents Support Initiative (TPSI) is a pilot programme composed of three pilot sites based in Dublin, Galway and Limerick. The programme is funded by the Department of Health and Children and has been in operation since March 2000.32 The Initiative’s emphasis on addressing all a young parent’s support needs places it in a unique position to identify and work towards meeting the myriad of obstacles that may combine to impact upon young parents educational attainment and long-term life opportunities. A fourth element of the Initiative is the creation of a Resource Pack and Directory of Services for key workers with young parents undertaken by Treoir (the National Federation of Services for Unmarried Parents and their Children). The resource pack aims to compile all key aspects of information on a wide range of topics (for example, social welfare entitlements, health and social services) centrally for use by key workers to respond to queries from young parents. A key feature of the national programme is its emphasis on supporting and enabling young parents who wish to participate in education and training.

6.1. Educational profile of TPSI participants By the end of June 2002, a total of 91 young parents were participating in the Dublin project, 108 in the Limerick project and 216 in the Galway project. Information on the educational profile of participants was not always readily obtainable particularly where projects engaged with parents by inter-linking with pre-existing support groups. The majority of participating young parents were female and all were aged less than 19 years at time of referral to the project. Table 1 provides an overview of the level of engagement with education by TPSI participants at the end of the evaluation period.

Table 1. Participation in education by TPSI participants, June 2002*

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6.1.1. Dublin TPSI With reference to participating parents at the Dublin project site, information was available on the educational level of 87 of the participants. Thirty five (or 38% of total referrals received)

participants were not engaged in education or training at the end of June 2002. Of these:

• 7 had completed their Leaving Certificate;

• 15 had left school after completing the Junior Certificate; and • 13 had left school before completing the Junior Certificate.

Forty-nine (or 54% of total referrals received) young parents were in education or training at the

end of June 2002. Of these:

• 16 were in second level education;

• 17 were in Youthreach;

• 7 were in FAS or Jobs Club;

• 7 were in third level education; and • 2 were in Adult Education.

Of the 17 young parents engaged with Youthreach or Youth Horizons, the majority had minimal educational qualifications (8 had completed primary school only and 9 had completed the Junior Certificate). Those involved with the FAS Jobs Club also had generally low levels of education - 5 had completed primary school only, 1 had completed the Junior Certificate and 1 had completed the Leaving Certificate.

Overall, the data indicates:

• Approximately 18% (n = 16)) of participants were still in mainstream second level education;

• Approximately 31% (n = 27) left school without obtaining any formal educational qualification i.e. before Junior Certificate;

• Approximately 30% (n = 26) left after completing the Junior Certificate but before the Leaving Certificate;

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