Expert insight: Early learning gives Dublin's Docklands kids a chance


Name: Marie Boyne
Job Title: Home Visitor for the Parent Child Home Programme, part of the Early Learning Initiative (ELI)

"I've learned from my own experience that the programme is 100% there for you"

Half of the world's top 50 banks and top 20 insurance companies have premises in Dublin's International Financial Services Centre, while IT businesses mushroom on the other side of the River Liffey in the area known as ‘Silicon Docks'.

For Docklands residents deprived of opportunity across generations, the nearby business bustle can seem a world away. Disadvantages that begin at pre-school age can determine expectations, and aspirations can wither on the vine.

Working for a change

Marie Boyne is a Home Visitor to three local families for the Parent Child Home Programme, part of the community-based Early Learning Initiative* (ELI) that is working for change. The Programme aims to work with children from disadvantaged areas, two years before their preschool year, nurturing learning skills during a pivotal period in cognitive development so that they enter full-time education with a chance to thrive.

Marie, who has a decade of experience as a crèche worker, is one of 20 Home Visitors making twice-weekly calls, spending vital one-to-one time with individual children and their parents. Her visits are designed to encourage interactive play, make reading fun, and work on the verbal skills that breed confidence. She needs no convincing that the National College of Ireland-run Programme works. Before she became a Home Visitor, her own son was a beneficiary.

“He was struggling with his language skills, and he would play alongside me, rather than with me,” she says. “I really noticed how his language took off and how he learned to play in an interactive way after we started on the Programme. All children are assessed by the Public Health Nurse before they go to primary school, and they noted a huge difference in him, and that meant that we got the right language therapy later on.”

Passing on her experience requires both skill and sensitivity. “People can be apprehensive about someone coming in, even if they know about the project is about. I've learned from my own experience that the programme is 100% there for you, so I like to get people to relax and speak to them on a normal level so that they get on board early on.”

True measure of success

Currently, Marie is working on developing verbal skills with one two-year old who has English as a second language and spends most of his time within the home. “Of course, there's plenty of body language and face-pulling, so I pick up on that and work with it, instead of making the parents feel they're under pressure to offer explanations or excuses.”

It is what happens between visits that is the true measure of the Programme's success, she says. A new toy or book excites interest, but one of the main aims is to stimulate interaction between parent and child.

Already, the results of the ELI Programme have been well documented. Just 15 families participated in the scheme's first year, in 2008, but that increased to 120 in 2015, and there is a waiting list. In May 2015, 74% of second year children were meeting their developmental milestones (based on cognition, behaviour and language) compared with only 44% in May 2014.

These numbers doubtless explain why the number of Home Visitors working alongside Marie on the Area Based Childhood Programme is being expanded to 30, and why similar schemes are starting in Garryowen, Limerick; and Ballinasloe, Galway. It also explains the attraction for funding by local employers, such as Dublin Port, HSBC, Deloitte, Facebook and Samskip, which favour schemes with a structural impact over token ‘community' events.

“All the local primary schools are involved in the ELI because they can see the value,” says Marie. “They've come on board and then the parents are chatting, so it's spreading by word of mouth; even the public nurse recommends the ELI.”

And, for Marie, it is the impact that only an outreach programme like ELI can make on individual lives that explains its true value. “I'm working with a little girl whose parents like her to show me everything she can do,” she says. “But she doesn't actually lead the play, so I'm showing them how to slow down to allow her to develop the confidence that will help later on.”

About the Early Learning Initiative

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*Samskip is a proud sponsor of the Parent Child Home Programme, part of the community-based Early Learning Initiative run by The National College of Ireland

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