College students who have left State care will have their campus accommodation paid for, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has announced.
Over €1 million in funding will be made available to cover accommodation costs for students leaving foster or residential care from next year.
Many care leavers are made independent at 18 and face the significant expense of trying to access further and higher education without family or community support.
Minister Harris told Newstalk the new initiative will ensure students leaving State care have security of tenure and are not constantly worrying about housing costs.
“Can you imagine how much of a challenge it must be if all of a sudden, at 18 years of age you leave foster care or leave State care and don't have perhaps any form of family support?” he said.
“If we believe education is the great equalizer, is a great leveller - and we do - it's really essential now that we step up.”
Students leaving State care
The Department of Higher Education worked with Empowering Young People in Care (EPIC) to develop the scheme.
Care leaver and EPIC Youth Council Member Kai Brosnan said Harris took “the time to listen to our voices and stories to help him understand the challenges and barriers”.
“Other departments should learn from this good practice and make the same effort to support care-experienced children and young people,” he said.
“Children in care are a whole-of-Government responsibility, this doesn’t solely lie with the Department of Children and Tusla, as evidenced by Minister Harris’ announcement today.”
Mr Harris also announced he has secured funding for an apprenticeship scheme for care leavers, offering €3,000 to apprentices.
The Department has also worked with EPIC to improve the State’s current database on college students who were previously in foster or residential care.
The current information is based on data since 2016 from HEAR and only includes those who self-identify as care-leavers.
A priority for the Department’s National Access Plan is to track the number of people who have had care-experience and their route into third level.