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‘Dangling children’s schooling over our heads to get us to “behave” over Christmas is poor form’


by Amanda Cassidy
17th Dec 2020
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Tony Holohan is appealing to parents to follow public health guidelines so schools can reopen in January. But threatening disruptions to children’s education again feels less like advice, and more like a threat, writes Amanda Cassidy


My son has only just settled back into school after the devastating disruptions he experienced last year. At 8 years of age,  managing the uncertainty and his anxiety has been and continues to be, a challenge.

We’ve done everything we’ve needed to do to keep him and our family and those around us safe. So the latest chastising from the Chief Medical Officer has felt unnecessarily emotive.

This morning the National Public Health Emergency Team is meeting to discuss the “concerning” levels in the spread of Covid-19. The team is worried that the family and friend’s gatherings over Christmas could be “an explosive concoction” that could spread the virus further.

Of course, nobody wants to return to lockdown in January, and everyone has a social responsibility to ensure we do what we have to do to contain the virus.

But creating uncertainty for children and parents in this way is damaging. In fact, they’ve always felt like an aside in the general covid conversation. If our world felt as if it was turned upside-down last March, theirs has been in a continuous whirlwind – a spin wash of fragile minds.

And just when it seemed to have settled, they overhear on the radio that schools – one of their core stabilities at the moment, might not be there for them after Santa comes. Worse, someone is saying that it may even be their parent’s fault. Even though there really feels like there isn’t much more we can do to follow the rules.

Maybe the issue here isn’t that parents have been targeted, maybe it is because other sections of society, those more likely to be responsible for the inevitable spread, haven’t been singled out

Targeted

Perhaps if all of this was such a concern, the schools should have advised closing a few days earlier to allow families to restrict movements before visiting grandparents over Christmas.

In my daughter’s class, many children are not in school this week because families have decided to do exactly this. There isn’t much going on in terms of academics for that extra week.

Positivity rates among schools have always been much lower than in the community.  Yet Dr. Holohan has now appealed directly to parents to ensure schools can safely reopen in January. A letter is being sent to the country’s 4000 schools asking them to forward that advice to parents of almost 1 million pupils.

But tailoring a message to parents directly seems strange when you look at the figures. Children are less likely to spread the virus, children are unlikely to be hanging out in pubs (with food) over the holidays, children are petrified of infecting grandparents because they have been traumatised by the last few months.

These are kids who cannot possibly understand why hugs are forbidden. They stand back, frightened, as we squeeze past others on the path out for our walk. The Santa visit is drive-through, or on video message, their school play’s are audience-less, no panto, fears that the elves will spread Covid.

Covid, Covid, Covid.

Maybe the issue here isn’t that parents have been targeted, maybe it is because other sections of society, those more likely to be responsible for the inevitable spread, haven’t been singled out.

The third wave of the pandemic should not be placed on the shoulders of our children

Mental health

The effects of Covid on our children’s mental health are only beginning to show. It is the sea lapping at our feet that is likely to turn into a tsunami.

Let’s not forget, and without minimising the tragic deaths of anyone, that there has been “more than 90% reduction in fatalities” in the second wave of Covid-19 compared to the first wave. They are the words of our Health Minister. Many of the deaths in the first wave were in nursing homes were, as the government’s own admission, as a result of poor planning and mismanagement.

Infantalising

The third wave of the pandemic should not be placed on the shoulders of our children. We should not be spoken to in terms of our “behaviour” like we, ourselves are naughty children. It is infantalizing and it is unnecessary. We are at risk here of weaponizing our children when the focus instead should be on the weak spots elsewhere.

Power-trips and snitch culture is seeping into our lives.  Let’s not forget our own individual responsibility, common sense and personal risk assessments.

We may eventually fight Covid successfully, but it will have left in its wake, a worrying imprint on our society.

Image via RTE.ie

Read more: The challenging reality of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout

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