School stress for struggling families

Monday, January 30, 2017

By Hannah Bartlett

 

New books, sharp stationery, and pristine pencil cases - preparing for the school year might be a time of academic anticipation for many children and parents, but for a growing number of Nelson families, it's nothing but stress.

Research by ASG Education Programmes shows that, for a child born in 2017, 13 years of school will cost parents $38,362, which is 15 per cent higher than 10 years ago.

Nelson Budget Service budget advisor Rosalie Grant said high numbers of parents had come through their doors this January, asking for advice about how to cover school costs.

"It's higher than it should be, it's definitely higher than it's been in the past and it seems to be creeping up," Grant said.

"We would just remind people to only purchase the things that they need... keep it to necessities, and pool resources with other parents, share second-hand uniforms and things like that."

Grant said demands on parents to buy stationery, kit out kids in uniforms, and cover costs of school camps were real pressures for many families.

"[They may have gone] from primary school where Year Six had a camp at the end of year, and then to intermediate and the next camp is at the start of the year because it's a new school. At $200 a pop within a few months of each other, that's an enormous pressure."

Grant said parents who were struggling financially should talk to schools about paying small regular payments throughout the year.

Stoke School Principal Peter Mitchener said they didn't schedule camps or trips at the start of the year.

He said while they could be wonderful opportunities for students to bond, he had found it put too much pressure on parents already struggling to afford backto-school basics.

"Our Parents' and Teachers' Association fund our [start-ofyear] trip to Rabbit Island and pay for the buses, but it's just forward thinking," Mitchener said.

He said while schools tried to keep costs down and consistent year-to-year, the cost of living had gone up.

"When people are still on the same wages but the cost of just everyday living seems to be increasing, it's very easy for some families to say 'well you won't be getting a school bag, and we'll be paying off your stationery'," he said.

But Mitchener said Stoke School was hugely assisted through organisations like KidsCan, which provided students with shoes, raincoats, and breakfast food.

He said the school community was supportive and inclusive, and many families in stable financial situations happily donated secondhand uniforms to families in need.

Mitchener said he'd seen the strength of the wider community come to the fore last year, when news broke of a student who had come to school shoeless and limping, and had been sleeping on a chest freezer because it was the warmest spot in the house.

He said the school had offers of support from all over the country, and a private organisation had funded them to establish a "social connector" position for the school.

He said this person was dedicated to working with families in need and connecting them with appropriate social agencies.

"In the case with the child sleeping on the chest freezer, a point I was trying to make was what do you tackle first because there were so many things going on for that family," he said.

"There was domestic violence, substance abuse, there was lack of budget advice... there were so many things going on ... where do you start and how do you help?" Mitchener said these issues were prevalent in many schools across Nelson and New Zealand, not just low decile schools.

A KidsCan survey in 2016 found 75 per cent of partner schools said the most common food issue they have is children arriving at school without having had breakfast and without any lunch for the day. The charity supports four schools in Nelson, including Auckland Point, Victory Primary, Nelson Intermediate, and Stoke School.

Seventeen schools are on the KidsCan waitlist, including Nelson's Nayland College.