Being labelled as Covid-19 ‘vectors’ made children feel stigmatised, TDs told

Young people from the Ark cultural centre’s children’s council address Oireachtas committee

(Left to right) Conor James, LillyRose Wogan-Martin and Olga Buckina are pictured outside Leinster House ahead of their presentation to an Oireachtas committee to share the experiences of children during the pandemic. They are members of The Ark Children’s Cultural Centre’s children’s council. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

(Left to right) Conor James, LillyRose Wogan-Martin and Olga Buckina are pictured outside Leinster House ahead of their presentation to an Oireachtas committee to share the experiences of children during the pandemic. They are members of The Ark Children’s Cultural Centre’s children’s council. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

The labelling of children as “vectors” for Covid-19 led them to feel stigmatised, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

LilyRose Wogan-Martin (12) told TDs and Senators that people actively tried to avoid her on the street earlier in the pandemic and that she heard news reports about children “spreading the virus”.

“In the first lockdown we were all encouraged for our mental welfare to go walking with our families,” she told the Joint Committee on Children.

“The fact that other people shunned us, and in many cases tried to walk in the middle of the road rather than pass us, left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me want to stay in rather than go out.”

Two other young people, Conor James and Olga Buckina, also addressed the committee. The trio are part of The Ark cultural centre’s children’s council, which received submissions from children across Ireland and outlined them to the politicians.

Many children said that they missed school and struggled to adapt to online learning during the pandemic. Others said they longed for their after school activities, such as sports, art and music, many of which were cancelled.

Children also spoke about missing out on major milestones in their life, such as communions, confirmations, school graduations and trips. They also spoke about losing loved ones and not being able to grieve.

“On Mother’s Day my brother and I made a banner for my Granny and waved and danced outside her window, little did I know that would be the last time I would see her, as we were not allowed to visit her in the hospital before she passed away,” said LilyRose. “I am sure there are many children in the same situation as me, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”

Unable to hug

Conor (11) suggested that everyone who had lost a loved one should be allowed a “day off” and that some sort of commemoration should be held. He also spoke about not being able to hug his parents as both are healthcare workers.

“My mum and dad are doctors, and my mum still works with Covid patients. We all know the pandemic was hard for health workers, but it was hard for their families too,” he said.

“The hospitals were very busy and overcrowded and stressful. I couldn’t hug my parents when they came home from work.”

Olga said each child experienced loneliness during the lockdowns.

“For some children, being at home so much, their mental health went way down. Yet for others, it went way up,” she said.

“Some felt so alone at home that they had to rely on several hours facetime with their friends just to keep themselves sane. Other children would have felt really lonely in school, even though surrounded by other kids.”

Essential care missed

The children also spoke up for their peers with specific needs.

“A lot of essential care for kids with specific needs was missed or reduced and this has caused an ongoing problem to them and their families, causing anxiety going into secondary school with no real additional help from anyone,” said LilyRose. “Basic needs like physiotherapy, assessments etc were cancelled, delayed or reduced causing issues to get worse daily.”

Conor added that more child counsellors will be needed once the pandemic ends. “Some kids, their mental health might not be the tip top,” he said.

“After this, who knows how many people will suffer from anxiety? Loads of people will... from their relatives dying, from them going to hospital and not being able to come home.”