1493599249699 - Vulnerable children even more at risk during school holidays

Vulnerable children even more at risk during school holidays

Children are going without food during school holidays as their parents struggle to make ends meet.

Agencies that tackle child poverty said the holidays pose a raft of problems for those who would normally receive support through their school.

Sometimes the food children got at school would be all they would eat that day, charity workers said.

Occasionally, schools kept their breakfast clubs going through the holidays but not all schools had that kind of staffing.

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Kidscan chief executive and founder Julie Chapman said it was an issue that needed addressing.

“Definitely there is concern that children are going hungry in the holidays. A lot of families do access food bank support during the holidays and that helps them to get through and focus on their children.”

Kidscan’s Food for Kids programme provides food every school day for thousands of children.

The charitable trust supports more than 23,000 hungry children a week with bread, spreads, hot food, fruit, baked beans, and scroggin.

It also provides raincoats, shoes, socks, plasters, and sanitary products.

Schools were used as a central point for distributing food to children and this helped keep running costs down, but KidsCan was open to expanding if possible, Chapman said.

“Families will buy food with the resources that they have and if there’s not a lot of budget in the house, the food budget is what shrinks.”

Child Poverty Action Group co-convener Janfrie Wakim said the issue lay in the government prioritising paid work over child wellbeing.

“It is estimated that the value of Working for Families has fallen from $3.1 billion in 2010, in 2017 dollar terms, to an estimated $2.4 billion this year.

“Restoring it will cost $700 million a year and who [has] lost out in those seven years? The working poor with children.”

Wakim said her charity had not done formal research on the issue, but anecdotally she had seen school holidays posing real issues for children in need.

Last week she had heard of a child coming into a library and telling staff he had no food that day. He was given a bag of feijoas.

“There are real issues for parents who are in work and on low incomes to find suitable care for their children.

“There are very significant roles for community organisations here but they must be funded appropriately for the work.”

She said ideally schools would be resourced to provide warm and dry shelter, care and hot food for children during school holidays. 

Other organisations and local breakfast clubs also provide food for vulnerable children, but all use schools – which are not easily possible during the holidays – as a distribution point.

Food bank services that provided care parcels for struggling families said demand was always much higher as families battled to feed children and entertain them for two weeks.

Pam Waugh, the head of the Salvation Army’s social services, said demand for the Salvation Army’s food parcels was always about 20 per cent higher during the school holidays.

“Parents are not keeping up with the demand of kids being home, keeping them busy, keeping them fed. It’s something we deal with consistently,” she said.

“We know it’s happening, we know school holidays are coming, we are prepared for it and we have the resources in place to meet that. 

“It’s the second week that hits them. We encourage people to come and see us before it gets too hard. Don’t go without paying the power bill or things like that.”

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said he was aware that a lot of support available during term time was not as easily accessed during the holidays.

“If [parents] need support during the term time, that doesn’t go away during the holidays. Schools have different ways of dealing with that.

“It is a bit of a stressed time and families have to pick up that slack.”

He said his school’s nurses and counsellors would be aware of children who sometimes didn’t eat for two or three days, apart from what was provided at school.

“We are aware that sometimes we are their best hope.”

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