Supporting the most vulnerable in society

The sun shines, the evenings lengthen, and flowers are in bloom providing bursts of vibrant colour but all this seems incongruous as we face the most bleak, dark period of recent times. No community or organisation has escaped the clutches of the Covid-19 pandemic which has caused shockwaves rippling through society. As we deal with the immediate challenges it creates, we worry about what the long-term effects might be.

In the area of education, the impact was felt immediately by all young people and their families but unfortunately the harsh reality is that it is the most vulnerable in our society who suffer most. Protecting our most at-risk and helpless families during these unsettling times is imperative.

While schools are doing trojan work adapting to a new reality, the approach is not consistent. Children with additional needs are more acutely impacted by disruption to education and support systems. The absence of therapeutic services (e.g. play therapy and speech language therapy) as a result of necessary restrictive measures will have a profound negative impact on children. In particular, children with autism for whom structure and routine is paramount will struggle with the prevailing sense of discord. Teachers of children with special educational needs find it difficult to meet the individualised needs of these pupils without face-to-face interaction. Many of the popular resources accessible online are not tailored for this cohort, but teachers and parents might find some of the following materials beneficial.

As access to internet may be an obstacle for vulnerable families, teachers may consider providing activity packs with printouts/worksheets to assist those who need them.

Educational resources

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) provide a wealth of resources on their website (in English and as Gaeilge) for all levels. Materials are specifically targeting children with Special Educational Needs with input from Speech and Language Therapists and Occupational Therapists.


As I am has been working to support Ireland’s autism community throughout the COVID-19 emergency. Over the past number of weeks, the organisation has designed a COVID-19 Hub, containing support materials, social stories and a webinar to help children with autism and family members through the uncertainty, anxiety and lack of routine.


Activities and resources for children from birth to twelve years are available on the “Help my kid learn” website.

There are activity ideas in play, reading, writing, counting and speech.


Downloadable games and worksheets for supporting children and young people with their speech, language and communication skills.


The HSE website has also compiled a list of useful resources, with explanations of the coronavirus pitched at children. This includes posters on hand-washing and what to expect if visiting a test centre, hoping to allay fears they may have.


School on TV – an RTE initiative

RTE are broadcasting ‘School on TV,’ at 11 o’clock each weekday morning. Set in a primary school classroom, it features qualified primary school teachers who will facilitate lessons to help them learn at home. This programme is aimed at children from 1st-6th class and can be accessed the following day on the RTE player.


Support for adults with literacy difficulties

Many people have felt overwhelmed by the amount of information around Covid-19 but for the one in six adults with literacy and numeracy difficulties in Ireland, it is an especially difficult time. The prospect of home-schooling for these parents will be a catalyst for anxiety. National Adult Literacy Association (NALA) have free phone and online support as follows:

  • Help for people with literacy, numeracy or digital skills needs
  • Help for parents with their kids learning
  • Help for people with understanding health information
  • Help for tutors who need teaching resources

(Freephone 1800 202065 or Text LEARN to 50050)

School Meals Scheme

The Department of Education and Skills (DES) confirmed that the School Meals Scheme will resume from this week commencing Monday, 30 March, with some notable changes.

On foot of latest restrictions announced by the Government on Friday, 27 March, the DES have confirmed that either An Post or local community/voluntary groups, via a Community Champion in each county, may assist schools with the delivery of food to vulnerable pupils under the scheme.

Each county has a Community Champion whose role is to direct queries and requests for assistance to local community and voluntary groups.

INTO advise school principals and home school community liaison teachers, whose boards of management have decided how the scheme will operate in their school, to liaise with school completion services and ensure that pupils from all families who wish to avail of the school meals scheme during the coming weeks receive the food once a week.


Children’s charity Barnardos is currently working with 1,580 families who require critical and intensive support. The charity is recognised as a “critical service” and is adapting to ensure that as well as providing much-needed assistance to new families, they can maintain their normal level of support for children who were already in very vulnerable circumstances and exposed to stressful situations (children living with domestic abuse, parental mental health challenges, neglect, acrimonious separation family breakdown and addiction etc.)

To help these families Barnardos is providing crisis supports such as: food parcels, safety planning for families living with domestic abuse, crisis management in the home, support in establishing and maintaining routines, and compiling and distributing activity packs.

At a time of great anxiety and uncertainty, a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi springs to mind ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable’. We must do our best to help those in most need.

Children’s Rights Alliance

Recognising the anxiety and stress caused to children, young people and their families at this worrying time, the Children’s Rights Alliance is working with members and stakeholders to find out how the current public health crisis is impacting children and their families and how best they can find, and advocate for, solutions.

One of the ways by which they are offering support is through their legal information helpline. Due to the increased volume of calls, the opening hours of the helpline have been extended to help families through this time. The helpline operates as follows:

Mondays            10am to 2pm

Wednesdays       2pm to 7pm

Fridays               10am to 12 noon