Some children are coming to school hungry or cold, and may be witnessing violence, drug abuse or experiencing poverty at home yet those under Year 9 at school don't have counsellors to talk about the issue with. Principal say some children struggle to concentrate or lash out. They speak to Cira Olivier about their plea for counsellors to be funded in primary and intermediate schools.
Violence, drug abuse, death, poverty and suicide are some of the traumas Rotorua children are exposed to according to principals who are pleading for counsellors to be funded in primary and intermediate schools.
Instead of being able to concentrate on their work, children are lashing out, becoming withdrawn or looking out for the next thing coming at them, they say.
The Government does not fund counsellors in primary and intermediate schools.
It did allocate $2.2 million in Budget 2019 to fund initiatives for promoting wellbeing for primary and intermediate children.
Ministry of Health deputy director of general mental health and addiction Robyn Shearer said the initiative would give more than 522,000 primary and intermediate aged children in 1946 schools across the country access to resilience-building and mindfulness resources.
Rotorua Principals' Association chairman and Mokoia Intermediate principal Rawiri Wihapi said anxiety and mood changes were the most common mental issues seen in schools.
He said uncleanness, hunger and emotions like sadness, confusion and exhaustion all reduced a child's ability to focus at school.
Wihapi said while the $2.2m would help, primary and intermediate teachers had to balance being a teacher with being a counsellor leaving "the core business of teaching at severe risk".
"There will never be enough [money] for how much help is needed currently, we need help immediately."
With no Government funding, the Rotorua Intermediate board of trustees spends $100,000 of its annual operational funds to contract three counsellors.
Rotorua Intermediate School former contracted guidance counsellor Ben Teinakore-Curtis said violence and self-harm were issues in some of the children he saw.
Teinakore-Curtis left his nine-year stint at the school last week to begin work at Stand for Children.
During his time at the school, he saw issues ranging from children with no shoes or food to children witnessing violence in the home.
"And this child comes into school feeling like no one loves them and that affects their education," Teinakore-Curtis said.
His role included helping pupils make sense of what they were going through, getting support from non-governmental organisations, meeting with families and whānau and putting plans in place.
He said even with four counsellors they struggled with workload issues and resources but that paled in comparison to what schools without any counsellors had to deal with.
He said funding for counsellors was integral to support not only children's immediate problems but for the wider context of how they develop as members of society.
"If we don't have the right people like counsellors in schools, we're going to see a lot more of those issues displayed outside of schools."
Otonga Rd Primary School principal Linda Woon said the school was under pressure to properly help the children that needed help.
"We're not trained as counsellors ... It's potentially possible for us to do and say the wrong thing.
"We need to know more, we need more resourcing, and it's more than just books or a pamphlet. We need knowledgeable people."
Western Heights Primary School principal Brent Griffin said more than 225 children at the decile one school were registered as vulnerable children so support was crucial.
"They come to school quite traumatised about what's happening in their household. A lot of that is domestic violence and drugs."
Although the school received funding for one social worker, it was struggling to find a replacement for its previous social worker who left at the end of last year.
New Zealand Association for Counsellors spokeswoman Jean Andrews said children were the most vulnerable in society and there was a "tsunami of young people coming in for help".
She said the brain experienced psychological pain much like physical pain.
"We wouldn't be allowing our children to walk around on broken legs or chronic illnesses ... Here we are ignoring children walking around with broken hearts."
Lakes Psychology Clinical Psychologist Debbie Heron said early intervention was key to helping young people. It was not only about addressing their mental health problem but building resilience and developing skills to promote wellbeing.
She said issues expressed by children were often contextual and needed to be looked at systemically.
It was not just children from troubled backgrounds that suffered from mental health problems, Heron said it could happen to any child for a range of reasons.
Shearer said the Ministry of Health would work with the Ministry of Education to make resources and tools available to schools to enhance the resilience and mental wellbeing of primary and intermediate aged children.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said schools below Year 9 didn't receive guidance staff funding.
But the ministry was working with the education and health sectors and the wider community to ensure children had the support they needed to succeed, she said.
She said mental health was part of the health and physical education, hauora learning area of the curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa from Years 1 to 13.