Czech Caritas: Debts cause school dropout, welfare reforms will not improve attendance
In the Czech Republic, family indebtedness contributes to young people deciding to drop out of secondary or vocational school. Many do not complete apprenticeships or their high school studies because they need to make money so the household can pay off its debts, and they go to work instead.
Staffers with the Charita ČR (Caritas Czech Republic) organization and its counseling centers are drawing attention to the situation. They encounter such cases in practice.
The highest proportion of young people dropping out of school exists, according to surveys and the number of collections proceedings underway, in those regions where inhabitants have the highest rates of personal debt. "This is a phenomenon. Young people are de facto motivated to drop out of apprenticeships, to not complete their studies, and to go work on assembly lines. Under the current situation on the labor market they will find work, but that could change. In order to make a weak financial contribution to the family budget, they are losing out on their possible futures," Jiří Lodr, the director of the Caritas organization in the diocese of Plzeň, told the Czech News Agency.
The Agency for Social Inclusion, a department of the Czech Regional Development Ministry, has focused on school dropout in its research. While 5 % of youth countrywide did not complete school in 2013, in 2017 the number was 7 %.
In the northwest of the Czech Republic, during that same time, the proportion rose from 9 % to 16 %. According to the Agency's calculations, the state will lose billions in the future as a result, money it will have to spend on welfare benefits that has not been raised through taxes and payroll contributions to health insurance and social security.
The most indebted districts in the Czech Republic are located, according to the map of collections proceedings, in the north and west of the country. In 2018 the worst situation was in the districts around Chomutov, Most and Sokolov, where one-fifth of the inhabitants were involved in some sort of collections proceeding.
The average debtor had five or six collections underway simultaneously there. Compared to 2016, the situation had deteriorated, according to the findings of the 2018 research.
"Indebtedness in this merciless economy is being seen in the schools," pointed out the head of Caritas in the diocese of Plzeň. According to him, some parents become indebted so that their children will not be rejected by their peers for not having the same stuff.
"Each child has to have a smartphone. When parents have money problems and want to protect their child from conflicts, they borrow money to buy one," Lodr described.
In order to improve school attendance and the educations achieved by youth from impoverished and indebted families, the planned tightening of welfare disbursal will be of no avail, according to the staffers of Caritas and its counseling centers. They thoroughly reject the Czech Labor Ministry's proposal to cut off housing support to families whose children are truant.
The Czech Caritas staffers call the ministry's measure cheap. In addition to establishing rules for how collections proceedings operate and making debt relief possible, they see the solution to the problem of school dropout as mainly that of arranging social housing with support from social workers for tenants.
Families in adversity are currently looking for accommodation in homeless shelters. However, they can stay in such temporary facilities for a limited amount of time only.
Because of the absence of affordable apartment units, such families then move into different facilities or residential hotels. This means a child is likely to attend a different school every year, with different classmates and teachers.
"Among the children from the shelters the percentage [of those with problems in school] approximates 100. Sometimes they are the third generation living in a shelter. Their grandmother lived there, their mother lived there, and now they live there too," said Marta Šosová of Blansko's Caritas counseling center.
According to representatives of the Institute for Social Inclusion (IPSI), stopping a family's housing benefits will not contribute to successful school attendance. Repression of that sort would, on the contrary, foil all the work that is now underway in the field with hard-pressed families.
IPSI has reported that the Czech Education Ministry is doing its best to improve the situation with dropout and truancy and is taking advantage of money from EU funds and the state's own budget for those purposes. Improvement has taken place in the Moravian-Silesian Region.
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