Food, clothing keep kids in school

Food, clothing keep kids in school

Monday, February 12, 2018

The tales of deprivation from school grounds continue to climb as families struggle to make ends meet, writes KidsCan founder and CEO Julie Chapman. 

Back-to-school costs are biting and they’re behind some confronting real-life examples of just what a struggle the beginning of the year is for many families.

Families who aren’t doing the wrong thing with their money, but simply don’t have enough income to sustain their family’s needs when you pile on top the need for uniforms, stationery and devices.

As the CEO and founder of KidsCan, I read the applications from schools who tell us they are desperate for food and clothing for their students. I also get the phone calls and emails from principals. There hasn’t even been a grace period this year — as soon as the school gates opened, one told me, 50 of the school’s 250 students had arrived without suitable footwear. Fifty.

While teachers turned guardian angels making food hampers to help a mother whose children arrived at school with nothing after the mother admitted they would go home to just three tins of fruit. The tales of deprivation from school grounds confirming what we know to be true.

The number of children in need has been climbing for the past three years, and this year it’s up more than a thousand on the same time last year. 2652 children at 19 schools from Northland to Christchurch are in need of our help. That’s on top of the 700 schools we already support. This on the back of a milestone year in 2017 where the percentage of decile 1-4 primary, intermediate and high schools supported by KidsCan jumped from 58% to 65%.  So, what can make 2018 the year of change? What I’m interested in witnessing this year is government policy that drives real change for children and their families so one day KidsCan does not need to exist.

I want to see families in stable housing, not having to endure the stress of frequently moving because they can’t afford the rent, being able to provide their children with three meals a day, clothing, shoes and feminine hygiene products. The basic things most of us took for granted when growing up. I believe the Government and all New Zealanders want the same thing — a country that is a great place for children to grow up. However, we need to acknowledge that this is not a quick fix. Life is not going to improve for children and their families overnight.

With a significant lack of rental stock making affordable housing an issue, along with the cost of living continuing to rise, any adjustment in income is unlikely to land in the hands of families living in hardship. Those only just surviving now in households that earn less than 60% of the median income won’t be significantly better off.

The money will — and excuse the pun — be eaten up by costs. It’s ironic because any extra money will be eaten up by increased rent, increased petrol or transport costs; it won’t stay in their pockets ready to be spent on the basics their children are missing out on through no fault of their own. 

Child poverty isn’t just costing the families living in hardship, it’s costing us all. According to the 2017 Child Poverty Monitor the economic cost to the country is estimated to be as much as $10billion a year.

That’s why KidsCan is focused on being the fence at the top of the cliff, not just the ambulance at the bottom, when it comes to tackling poverty in this country. It’s vital we empower the next generation, our Kiwi kids to be actively involved in reaching the full potential.

As one principal told us last year, "Some kids cling to the stuff they get from KidsCan like a lifeline. When everything else in your life is difficult, the gift of food, a jacket in the rain or shoes are life-changing."

But as the school year begins in earnest, the reality is we can’t change some children’s lives just yet. Their school is still on our waiting list. Waiting for access to our food, clothing and health programmes so they can create the best learning environment  possible for their students.

Also, while they wait for our help with the basics, the fact is some of their students will be left waiting, not in the classroom but at home. Kept behind their front door unable to make it through the school gate due to the embarrassment of not being able to make the money coming in stretch far enough to buy a uniform or stationery, let alone afford school camps or trips often planned for the start of the year.

Kiwi kids being kept home from school, denied the fun back-to-school experience so many of us took for granted, is in such contrast to the nation we like to think we are. Real change is going to take years and KidsCan intends to be there for as long as we are needed because we believe every child, no matter where they come from, deserves to live with dignity.

That’s why we make no apology for asking for your help to open the door for New Zealand’s disadvantaged children. Children who want to go to school and learn, because all children have dreams. Some just have a greater chance of making them a reality. Getting to school is the first step.

We’ve made our choice, our choice is to be part of the solution. What will yours be? Together we can change our human history and stop the back-to-school shame.