Posted: 11 August 2014

School’s out for summer

Walking down my street recently, I saw excited children flooding out of the school gate on the last day of term, clutching books, pictures, carrying bags full of the last scraped-up items out of that year’s desks. No school for weeks! Just long, hot, summer days, holidays by the sea, visiting friends, wearing what you want, doing what you want...

On the same day, I talked to a shop manager tearing her hair out and more or less in tears trying to adjust working rotas for all the parents trying to change their shifts, change their hours, juggle their arrival and departure times...

The freedom of the summer holidays sounds idyllic, but for many children it’s just a dream and for many parents a long nightmare. What do you do if you have to work but cannot afford extra childcare? If children are not getting their meals at school, how do you find not only more food but time to prepare and cook it? What do you do with all their energy if you can’t be around to play with or to engage your children?

For many parents living in poverty, where money is the survival factor, everything has to be sacrificed for what you can earn to keep body and soul together. Caring for children becomes endlessly complex, a series of negotiations among family members, neighbours and friends. Who can you trust enough to take on those responsibilities? Inevitably, some children get neglected, some get left alone. And with all that, the guilt, the nagging worry about what’s going on at home, whether the children are getting into trouble and whether they're safe.

And for some children, the summer holidays are often times of dread. Maybe school is for them a respite from a desperate home life, the only place they are free from fear or able to rest, have a reasonable conversation with an adult, or even to get a square meal.

For others, perhaps living in rural isolation, they can be suddenly cut off from friends, trapped by lack of transport or communications, wondering what others are up to, and left in loneliness and frustration until they can catch the school bus again. Other children may become acutely aware of themselves as burdens, problems, sources of anxiety for their parents and feel worried, stressed and guilty in their turn.

School’s out for summer.... Walking down my street today, I see children playing on bikes, making dens in the woods, kicking balls on the football field. But perhaps we need sharper eyes, and to be aware of the children we don’t see, the struggles we don’t know about.

What could we do to help?

This month’s resources

By Anne Richards - Church team