Marginalised children ‘struggling to re-engage’ with education after school closures

Webinar hears calls for more mental health supports to be offered at primary level

Many children are struggling to re-engage with education after the lengthy school closures at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a Children’s Rights Alliance webinar has heard. Photograph: iStock

Many children are struggling to re-engage with education after the lengthy school closures at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a Children’s Rights Alliance webinar has heard. Photograph: iStock

 

Many children are struggling to re-engage with education after the lengthy school closures at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a webinar has heard.

The discussion, hosted by the Children’s Rights Alliance, was told that children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, those living in the direct provision system and children with disabilities were most impacted.

Patrick Reilly, a mental health worker with the Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, said Traveller children were seriously affected by the closures, with overcrowding and poor facilities on halting sites making the change even more challenging.

“The past 18 months has been very difficult in relation to homeschooling, stress on parents with low literacy, poor WiFi connection, no privacy and very low IT skills. It has affected the wellbeing of children,” he said.

Mr Reilly said some Traveller children really wanted to return to school, but others had not come back yet. He said this was because some children felt they had fallen too far behind due to the difficulty they had with online learning.

He said the mental health of Traveller students had also been affected. “Children as young as 12 have died by suicide. We need a holistic approach to Traveller mental health.”

Issues at younger ages

Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council Primary, said more mental health supports are needed at primary school level.

“Mental health and wellbeing issues are being raised at a younger age. The supports are just not there for the under 12s,” she said.

Mental health teams should be set up in every school, she said, and this would take pressure off child and adolescent mental health services, which already have long waiting lists.

Another point raised during the webinar was that examinations processes, as currently structured, were damaging some young people’s wellbeing.

Rosie Bissett, chief executive of Dyslexia Association Ireland, said a more balanced approach including predicted grades should be considered.

Some children actually thrived when their school closed, according to Prof Pat Dolan, director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway.

Domestic violence

He said some young people who took part in a survey being conducted by the centre reported that they were not physically bullied due to school closures.

“But there were some young people who were living in domestic violence situations who were locked in, which was really dangerous,” said Prof Dolan.

For other young people online learning just did not work so they “checked out” and will need to be re-engaged, he added.

“There are also young people who have lost loved ones during Covid that couldn’t go through with the normal grieving process... a gentle approach with a lot of compassion is needed.”