With kids returning to the classroom in just over a week, there is a lot of concern among parents and teachers about how schools will function in Term 1.
The high numbers of COVID-19 cases, the fact that most kids haven’t had the chance to be fully vaccinated and the difficulty of obtaining rapid antigen tests are all feeding into that worry.
But the most important consideration must be the health and wellbeing of our kids, according to Anne Hollonds, the National Children’s Commissioner. Her role is to oversee the safety and wellbeing of children and protect their rights.
After two years of uncertainty and disruption, Commissioner Hollonds said it is time to put the needs of children first.
“What I really want to see is that children’s needs, in the broader sense, are given some priority now, because frankly children have really taken a back seat over the past two years,” Ms Hollonds said.
“That’s not unusual, in that policy often is designed primarily for adults and we assume kids will benefit from that. There are some concerns emerging – very serious concerns – about children that have perhaps been overlooked in the steps that we’ve taken to control the virus and minimise the impact on the health system.”
Ms Hollonds said hospital admissions for serious mental health disorders were significantly up last year in lockdown states and also those disorders were occurring in much younger children.
National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds is also concerned for those children who weren’t able to successfully learn online, who may have experienced learning deficits and find it difficult to catch up.
“We need to understand that childhood is a unique stage of life, with unique needs in terms of development and wellbeing, so policy that’s designed for adults isn’t necessarily going to meet the needs of children,” she said.
While children have suffered in the pandemic, Commissioner Hollonds said the advice from paediatricians she has consulted with is that there is no medical reason to keep healthy kids out of school.
She explained that two thirds of the children who are hospitalised with COVID-19 are there for social reasons, for example, their parents are in hospital and they need to be looked after. They are, however, seeing large numbers of kids hospitalised with mental health problems.
Ms Hollonds said kids are influenced by the level of anxiety in the adults around them.
National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said kids are influenced by the level of anxiety in the adults around them.
Tips for parents to keep calm
- Kids pick up on your anxiety so keep calm
- Put your devices away and have fun with your kids
- Be reassuring and let your kids know that experts think it is safe to return to school
- If your anxiety is heightened, call your GP and have a telehealth consultation about your specific circumstances