Saskatchewan

Sask. school officials worry some vulnerable students may be falling through cracks

School closures proved to be the breaking point for Justin Eashappie and his wife, who voluntarily placed their children in foster care.

Lack of school, child care drives Sask. couple to put their children in foster care

School officials are worried some vulnerable students are falling through the cracks, as they're not getting the same face-to-face time with teachers as they normally would, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock )

Justin Eashappie and his wife were already having a tough time taking care of their children before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working minimum wage jobs, they argued frequently about their bills. Tensions increased when the pandemic struck and their children's school and daycare closed in March. Schools will likely remain closed until Septmeber.

It proved to be the breaking point for the family. Easchappie said they decided to voluntarily put their two children into a foster home so they could be cared for.

"We couldn't afford a babysitter," Eashappie said. "[We talked to a social worker] and we said what can we do with our kids and how long can they be in foster care before we get them back?"

Eashappie said he hopes to get his children back when he can find affordable childcare.

School officials and teachers have expressed concern that some children who are stuck at home are being neglected, abused, or suffering from stress and anxiety without any adult support.

Are they getting the type of the support they need?"​​​​​- Greg Enion, director of education, Regina Public Schools

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, said classroom teachers can serve as a critical alert system when students are having a tough time.

"We know that students sometimes experience mental health, or display mental health concerns, or are having a difficult family situation," he said. 

"Teachers can be a huge lifeline to them in connecting them with social services or mental health counselors."

Maze credited the provincial school divisions for reaching out and trying to figure out which families are in need and to ensure they have the support they need, but noted distance learning isn't conducive to helping children with their personal problems.

Some still falling through cracks

Greg Enion, director of education for Regina Public Schools, said school counselors and psychologists are available to assist students at the elementary and high school levels. 

Some staff have been assigned to check up on children at home, he said, using technology or over the phone.

 "Our staff has made their best effort to reach out to as many students and families as we can, but we are concerned that there are some students who may be falling through the cracks that we maybe haven't been able to reach, or have moved," Enion said.

Physical distancing means they haven't done many doorstep visits, he said.

The division partnered with the Regina Food Bank to safely deliver food hampers and schoolwork to families who don't have access to technology. 

Enion said a portion of the division's meal program money is being diverted to the food bank to purchase food.

Enion said it's "troubling" that children who are experiencing violence, bullying, or mental health challenges and would normally seek help from school staff in person, can no longer do so.

"It's obviously much easier for those children when they're in school and they have that face-to-face contact [with school staff] . So, certainly, we're troubled about that. We're certainly troubled about kids that might be experiencing anxiety or maybe having some mental health challenges," he said. 

"Are they getting the type of the support they need?"

He encouraged any student or parent to reach out to their school if they feel they or their student needs assistance.

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Reporter

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he reported in central and northern Saskatchewan. Send news tips to Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

With files from Bonnie Allen

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