Support Urgently Needed for Children Returning to School

Poppy by Patrick Bolger, courtesy of Barnardos

Eoin Meegan
Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021

A total of 1,473 parents and 121 children and young people participated in Barnardos Back to School Survey conducted over the summer. The findings clearly show that many parents believe their children need additional support when returning to school in just three weeks’ time. Concerns ranged from social skills, to emotional development, to a child’s ability to follow rules and routines in a structured environment when they return to class. Over half of parents surveyed said their families had experienced mental health difficulties over the past year, while 63% had worries about the educational development of their child. Most of the respondents were mothers, with over half coming from an urban background.
“My 7-year-old has had a total of 18 months desk time in front of a teacher. They’re behind 7 months of time and a year of actual learning. They need another year of catch up.” (Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021)
The prohibitive cost of education was also a big factor in the responses of many. Over half those surveyed were worried about the cost of sending their children back to school, with many having to borrow to pay for school books and uniforms. According to one parent: “Financially I’m barely making ends meet on a weekly basis and now I have to think about new uniforms, books, book rental lunches.”  All this demonstrates the high level of adversity families are facing in the current economic climate, particularly as the country begins to emerge from the long lockdown. Of those surveyed 64% stated that their children will need support when they return to school – and even more alarming – 49% said they were not confident those support needs would be met.
“He will have to return to school with a uniform that has stains as I can’t afford to buy a new one.”(Primary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021) 
While it’s not all gloom, many children expressed delight at the thought of being reunited with friends at school, what it does show is an Ireland that is regrettably once again hidden from view. It reveals an underbelly of darkness and unseen suffering that doesn’t sit well with the positive image we like to project. Yet this world is all too real, and it’s one that hundreds of people must live through daily.

You can help your child
If your child has any concerns about going back to school or is acting withdrawn or moody, you can help by being the support they need. Children absorb everything and will have heard snatches of conversations about the virus or the vaccine, and then re-imagine it in a whole new way in their minds. Likewise teenagers may have read some of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds online. Lies can sew seeds of fear and mistrust at an unconscious level. If they’re ready you can also talk to your children, especially the older ones, about a time when you felt anxious about something and how you worked through that fear. Sometimes people don’t realise that it’s ok to feel a little sad or anxious, and it’s good for them to know that they’re not the only ones feeling this way. The thing is to be available for them without being intrusive.

Some of Barnardos Recommendations
Set out how the Department for Education is going to address the longer-term fall out of the pandemic on the educational development of children within this country.
Address additional support needs of children returning to school, providing schools the autonomy and flexibility to respond effectively to the individual level of need in their school.
Tackle increased anxiety and stress among school children. Schools should be given additional resources to access or provide emotional wellbeing and mental health supports.
As well as increasing back to school allowances and ending the practice of voluntary contributions in non-fee paying schools.
The survey is a useful insight into the genuine needs and concerns of many struggling parents. It is to be hoped its recommendations will be heeded by government and acted on swiftly.
Read the full report at:
For support or guidance, Barnardos professionally-staffed Parent Support line is available Monday-Friday from 10am-2pm on 1800 910 123.