A homeless charity and a teachers' trade union have published guidance today for teachers and school principals who are working with pupils and families who are homeless.

The document comes as more than 2,250 children who are homeless returned to school this month.

Published by Focus Ireland and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), the resource explains the cause of homelessness, the impact it can have on children, and it offers advice to school staff as to how they can support children and families in this situation.

Publishing the document today, Focus Ireland says the most recent figures show that the number of homeless children has increased five-fold in just five years.

In 2014 there were 755 homeless children, now there are 3,778. This comprises both preschool and school-going children.

The charity says the crisis has now spread to cities beyond Dublin with over 500 families and 1,000 children homeless outside of the capital.

The document offers advice to teachers on how to recognise the signs of homelessness.

As families and children may be too ashamed to tell a school they are homeless, it advises teachers to watch for things like regular lateness or absence, as well as children appearing unkempt or withdrawn.

It states that when a child is homeless "educational needs become secondary to the pupil's emotion and mental health". It warns that children who are homeless may for instance be losing out on important brain development because their ability to play is "significantly restricted". 

It recommends practical supports that schools can offer families, such as "discreetly" providing access to clean clothes including uniforms, and making "basic hygiene supplies" such as toothbrushes and hairbrushes available.

The document also suggests schools try to provide nutritious snacks for homeless children, as well as a room or quiet corner with beanbags where a child can take a nap.

It advises schools to turn a blind eye to some late arrivals by ensuring that homeless parents know that being late is better than missing a whole school day.

The document contains a range of other recommendations for schools, including how to provide information to parents regarding their entitlements and how to contact state agencies, and local politicians.

Focus Ireland has called for the Government to review its policies dealing with child homelessness.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said there was a real danger that the human stories of children in homelessness would get lost behind the homeless numbers.

INTO President Feargal Brougham called for additional ring-fenced resources and guidance to help schools support children who are homeless.