Belgium/Child poverty: "A child should not miss school because of financial difficulties".
The pandemic of COVID followed by the economic crisis has direct consequences on the increase of poverty. This phenomenon does not spare children. According to the latest figures from Statbel, almost 13% of them suffer from material deprivation, i.e. they do not eat enough, do not have the right clothes or do not go on vacation. And this poverty does not stop at the school gates.
So, to help families in difficulty, it is often the educational teams that give a helping hand. This is the case at the René Thone special school in Marchienne-au-pont: "We go to bakeries to get leftovers to have breakfast together," explains Alison Vandervelden, social worker. "Some teachers make pancakes with the children, in short we try to be a little ray of sunshine in their days."
A clothing closet, "just in case," is also installed. Inside, warm clothes but also shoes or t-shirts. Another idea that has been put in place is the distribution of soup at noon in the classroom. "It's a very nice moment of sharing", says Sarah Vleminckx, teacher. "When the children don't have any toast, we give them some. I always bring something to eat as well. It's also a way to make them taste other things, vegetables that they are not used to eating. It's fun to do together!"
No stigmatization of parents
In this school, there is no question of stigmatizing parents who are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet: "I always tell them that my door is open," adds Alison Vandervelden, "if they lack money for snacks for example, we can always help them. Being in trouble can happen to anyone, there is no need to be ashamed. A child should not miss school because of financial difficulties."
The Wallonia Brussels Federation allocates budgets to schools for the implementation of this type of assistance, but the observation today is clear to the team: "It's not enough," explains Dominique Treseni, school director. "It's true that we have budgets. But they are not enough to meet the needs, unfortunately."
According to UNICEF figures, Belgium has one of the highest child poverty rates in Europe.
The international organization calls for the fight against child poverty to be a strategic priority for governments.