By Annemiek Hoppenbrouwers

For a lot of children, closed schools are not a big problem. You can play outside because the weather is great; mom and dad are at home which means you don’t have to go to daycare, and you can often watch television because mom and dad have to work from home. When they are done working, they can play games with you and you can stay up a bit longer because you do not have to get out of bed early. Of course, there is some tension, because people get sick. But because mom and dad continue to act normally, you will forget that tension again.

When it’s no fun at home

This is the experience of most children. Unfortunately, there is another group of children who might not enjoy to stay at home with mon and dad all the time. For those children, it is not fun at home, and certainly not when both parents are at home. This is the case, for example, for children in an unsafe home situation due to abuse, or children whose parents are in a complex divorce, with a lot of tension. It might also be the case for children from (multi-) problem families or children with problems such as ADHD or autism, who need a lot of structure.

Those are the children who you worry about when they don’t show up in the classroom on Monday, and who you are relieved to see back on Tuesday. Those are the children who you know that their home situation is not ideal, and who you give some extra attention on the days that they are under your care, hoping that it offers some compensation. You probably have a boy or girl in your mind that has kept you awake in recent weeks: how is he/she?

Professionals visit families less or not at all because of the coronavirus. Many families are thus left on their own, forced by the circumstances. Although professionals try to stay in touch through online communication, this is far from ideal.

What can you do when you are concerned about a child?

If you are concerned about a child and you know there is a professional that is in contact with the family, it is best to call them to ask if you can do anything. Sometimes there is (almost) no additional support for the family. In this case, it may be necessary for you, as an ECEC professional, to take a closer look, because you may be the only professional in the immediate vicinity of the child:

  • Phone call the parents to ask how they are doing. Do this in an friendly way. By approaching people in an friendly way, you can reduce any resistance. Focus on making genuine contact. Above all, ask open questions, listen, show interest, and try to keep asking questions. Examples of friendly questions are:
    • How are you?
    • How are you managing to make time for yourself?
    • How does your child spend the day?
    • Can others perhaps support you by, for example, doing something with the child(ren) now and then?

Also ask if you can speak to the child on the phone. It is good if the parent is present in the background so that you can end the conversation with them. That creates trust and the child will feel cherished by having the teacher calling him or her.

  • Offer help to parents. Ask them if you can help them with anything, or come up with ideas yourself: suggest that they make a daily schedule for their child, so that the day has structure. Or make a ‘fun plan’ together: what fun activities can the parents and the child do together? Maybe the child can play somewhere now and then, which gives the parent some time for him/herself. Make an appointment to call once in a while to hear how they are doing (Skype, video calling or group calling through WhatsApp).
  • Don’t do this alone: discuss your concerns, your plans and your actions with one or more colleagues. When you are really concerned about the safety of a child, do not hesitate to call a child protection service. You can also call them to discuss what you can do, you don’t have to make an official report right away.

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Children in a vulnerable home situation: what can a professional do remotely?

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