Poverty in families is often not visible in the classroom, schools get help

NOS / Jeroen van Eijndhoven

NOS News

More and more families are facing poverty due to high inflation. They also feel that in the lessons. Children come to school hungry or experience so much stress that they perform worse. A guideline will be published today to help schools recognize and discuss poverty.

The updated guide Tackling poverty in schools, written on behalf of the Equal Opportunities Alliance, doesn’t just give schools tools to identify poverty. It also helps primary and secondary schools to support students and their parents in this.

One in thirteen children and young people grow up in poverty. This corresponds to an average of two students per Poverty often has a great impact on a family. This can lead to poorer school performance, according to research from the Social and Economic Council. In addition, psychosocial and health problems may arise.

Poverty also affects parents. They are less able to make wise decisions. Because of the stress that occurs, they often pay less attention to their child, and an unsafe home situation can arise.

According to professor child poverty at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences Mariëtte Lusse, recognizing poverty is not only important for schools in poorer neighborhoods. Even in more affluent neighborhoods, there are more children who have to deal with this.

High inflation is causing money worries among families who were previously able to do well. Divorce or bankruptcy can also be the reason.

“It is schools that pay the least attention to it. Children are more often the exception here, which makes it more difficult for them. They are very much alone in this,” says Lusse, one of the guide’s authors.

Teachers in schools in more affluent neighborhoods should therefore be aware of this. Especially because parents who are not used to poverty often do not know the way to support.

Health personnel in the school

But even in schools that had to deal with poverty before the current energy crisis, it is not a matter of course to recognize it and make it a topic of discussion, according to Lusse.

“We notice that the schools find it scary to talk about poverty. We started working with flyers at two high schools in Rotterdam. It says what the school can help with, as well as the name and number of the social worker.”

This leaflet was distributed to all parents during the start-up meetings. The parents were also asked if they were concerned about their child’s attendance at school. At both schools, they noticed that several parents subsequently reported to the social worker.

Such a social worker is not only there for the students, but also for the parents. They can help parents apply for reimbursement for school-related expenses or refer them to ‘budget buddies’ or the food bank.

To what extent there is room for that, according to Lusse, now depends on which municipality a school is in. She would like to see this kind of care staff get a larger job and be structurally linked to a school.

“The problem with poverty is that you can hardly see it. An empty lunchbox can indicate it, but it can also mean that there are some organizational problems in a family that have nothing to do with money concerns,” says Lusse .

Moreover, poverty is sometimes not visible because parents make sacrifices so that their child is no exception. It can happen that a child has expensive shoes despite the money worries.

A warning list for teachers is included in the guide. Ruined or ill-fitting clothes can indicate money worries. But concentration problems can also indicate this, which can often be absent.

It also includes a sample conversation to help teachers determine if they need help with anything during an introductory meeting with a student or parent.

Stress because of Santa Claus

“It helps if the school realizes that a simple inquiry can get a number of children into huge problems. Making a surprise with Sinterklaas, for example. Or having to come to school by bike. If you as a school know who it is a problem it is often easy to find a solution,’ says Lusse.

For example, a school can make school bicycles available to students who do not have one themselves. Or set up a give-away closet where parents can exchange clothes, fitness equipment or toys.

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