Teen was ‘in squalor’ with blood on walls

A Lisburn youth who spent eight months on an Education Welfare Service waiting list was eventually found living in squalor, having bloodied the walls by self harming, after first attempting to kill himself.

Fundraisers at Bow Street
Fundraisers at Bow Street
Fundraisers at Bow Street

That’s the horrific picture painted by a Star source inside the service, who says children’s lives across Lisburn are being put at serious risk while the EWS flounders under South Eastern Education and Library Board funding cuts.

According to the same source, some 29 Lisburn area schools, including special needs, are currently without any EWS provision, while the Lisburn team has 130 children on its waiting list, 65 of them assigned to absent staff who are not to be replaced.

The SEELB contests the source’s funding figures, claiming the 2014/2015 budget is actually bigger than that of 2013/14, and reports that new staff are in fact being recruited.

The minutes of a June meeting of Senior Education Welfare Officers record that across the SEELB area two permanent vacant EWS posts were not to be filled and a lack of additional money in the core budget allocation meant no cover would be provided for the four EWO on maternity leave or the two others due to begin leave before the end of the year. A SEELB spokesman insisted, however: “The EWO service has experienced a higher than normal level of maternity this year and has encountered difficulties in the recruitment of replacement staff.

“However, one post has been filled and recruitment is in process for two further posts.”

Funded by the education boards, the EWS addresses school absenteeism by working directly with schools, parents and communities to support young people in reaching their full potential through education.

Among the primary and post-primary schoolchildren officers support are those from socially deprived areas, traveller children, children on the child-protection register, children suffering from anxiety, depression and bullying, some of whom who have attempted to end their lives.

With education boards already facing criticism for not doing enough to tackle absenteeism, the SEELB, the EWS source claimed, had cut the Core Budget funding for Education Welfare Service from £844,000 in 2013/14 to £760,480 in 2014/15, a reduction of £83,520.

Staffing and salaries are reported to account for £799,309, which would present a shortfall of £38,829, increasing to £85,356 when taking into account £46,527 in expected EWS running costs for 2014/15.

The SEELB says otherwise.

“The actual spend for the Board’s Education Welfare Service in the financial year 2013/14 was £1,603,000,” the spokesman said. “The budget for the financial year 2014/15 is currently £1,717,000.”

He added, in general terms, that there had to be a prioritising of resources in all public services and the Educational Welfare Service was no exception.

“The nature of the service,” he said, “means that there will always be a waiting list, which has to be prioritised in line with the level of risks for children and young people within the available resources.”

The situation was “not acceptable”, the EWS source insisted, adding: “It’s putting children at huge risk and my fear is that a child will die. That’s very real; where these children are not in school it’s for a reason.

“One mother was on the list for nine months and during that time her daughter tried to take her life.

“In another case, an adolescent was eight months on the waiting list and when EWS finally got ino his house the rooms were knee-deep in rubbish.

“The mother’s mental health had deteriorated and he was trying to hide it and protect his mother. He had tried to hang himself with the flex from his bedroom light and the walls were covered in blood where he had been banging his head against them.”

The source painted an equally bleak picture, within the SEELB area, of the Downpatrick EWS team, where they claimed 91 children were unallocated under the names of absent officers and 39 schools were not recieving the Education Wefare Service they were entitled to.

They remained adamant that funding cuts were not only disadvantaging children’s educational attainment, due to poor school attendance, but putting lives at risk.

“There is only one way that the Education Welfare Service will manage to break this cycle of underachievement of the most vulnerable children in our society,” they said. “Additional Resources are required immediately to support the most vulnerable children in our society.”