With some children back at school – and more set to head back when New Zealand eventually moves to Level 2 – teachers, aides and the wider community are urged to keep a close eye on the welfare of children after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Child Matters CEO, Jane Searle says some Level 4 bubbles will not have been a safe place for some children across New Zealand, but this may only become apparent once children go back into their school environments.

“The Lockdown – and ongoing restrictions relating to COVID-19 – have been challenging for us all. But for some families, the situation is exacerbated by pre-existing issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, over-crowding, or factors such as stress about loss of employment,” says Mrs Searle.

“In these situations, it doesn’t take much for the melting pot to boil over and tragically, family members – including our children – often bear the brunt of the consequences.

“Due to the lockdown constraints, this harm may not have been obvious to neighbours or wider family, while it could also have been difficult for victims to reach out for help.

“However, the impact could become more visible once the bubble starts widening, and particularly when it includes school. We are urging teachers and the wider school community to keep a watchful eye on their students for signs of concern.”

Mrs Searle says there are some obvious signs of physical abuse, but emotional abuse and/or neglect can be harder to spot. She says teachers and other adults can seek advice from a number of different organisations if they have concerns.

“It could simply be a feeling that something ‘is not quite right’.

“If you have that gut feeling, please let someone know, whether that is your principal or someone like Child Matters. We have a free advisory service for anyone who is concerned about the wellbeing of a child or young person.”

Mrs Searle says in an ideal world, New Zealand would have mandatory child protection training for those working with children which would ensure that those people would know how to recognise the signs of abuse, how to respond and to have the confidence to do so.

“In the meantime, we can help with assessing risk, when to make a report, or providing information about what organisations and services are available. Don’t be scared to call us, we all want the same thing – to make sure children are safe. Please, say something to someone. It could honestly save a life.”