Schools Coordinator, Seonaid Weightman, on how poor housing can cost a child their education.
School-Home Support (SHS) was featured in a BBC News piece on vulnerable families facing eviction last week, and I was able to watch with my brother and some friends. Although my friends and family are aware of the work SHS does to support vulnerable families and children in London, the visual impact of seeing families living in one room and young children travelling for two hours to get to school was more powerful than anything I could have told them.
After watching, they had lots of questions about how families came to be in such difficult circumstances and how it affects the children, but it was one question from my brother that really stood out for me:
“How do you make a kid do their homework after all that?”
It was a good question: parents with financial security and safe housing struggle to get their children to focus and complete homework. For those parents living in inadequate housing, finding the time or space to help their children with homework can be incredibly difficult. Poor or overcrowded housing affects children in a multitude of ways; for example, children in poor housing are 25% more likely to suffer from severe ill-health and disability during childhood and are more likely to have behavioural problems. This makes them more likely to be off sick and have trouble focusing when they are in class. Families in temporary accommodation also often have no access to the internet, meaning children are unable to complete online homework tasks – so even if they are motivated to do their work they aren’t able to!
As the piece on the BBC showed, SHS practitioners work tirelessly to support families in poor housing; helping them to correspond with housing associations, write to local MPs, manage their debts when this is necessary, and ensure schools are aware of the family’s situation so children and parents are supported in school too. They can also offer children one-to-one after-school homework support, as it is particularly difficult to concentrate without a stable home environment.
Practitioners also help families by providing resources via the SHS Welfare Fund; whether it is pens and notebooks, a desk so children have a space to work in at home, or even a bed so that children don’t have to sleep on the floor. Poor housing affects so many aspects of a family’s life that practitioners have to respond in a variety of ways to ensure that children are able to attend and achieve in school. By empowering parents and working to bring about positive changes to their situation, practitioners enable parents to motivate and support their children to achieve.
It is important that these stories are shared to ensure that more people are aware of the struggles of some of the most vulnerable children in London, and the barriers they face every morning – just to get to the school gate in time.