A CORK expert has warned that school closures can have particularly negative impacts on some children as pupils and teachers prepare for a return to class on Thursday.
Special rapporteur on child protection, Professor Conor O’Mahony of UCC’s Child Law Clinic, is behind an annual report, published this month, which documents “the harm caused to children by school closures and lockdowns”.
Speaking to The Echo, he said: “The evidence we’ve seen in 2020 and 2021 has all pointed in one direction and showed how harmful the closures were for a lot of children from marginalised backgrounds. Not everyone sees that, because they don’t live in those communities. Schools allow children time in a safe environment for a certain amount of time every day.”
“They also put them in contact with mandated reporters in school who will be on the lookout for red flags indicating signs of neglect or abuse.
“This may result in a report to Tusla, who will take action by identifying that child and addressing their needs. This was one of the most significant manifestations of school closures.”
He listed the negative impacts for children who are at risk.
“Children were not in contact with people who were the most likely to make a child protection referral. This made it much more difficult for Tusla to identify the children who needed our protection. The issue of children at risk is sitting on top of a pyramid of different impacts.
"Socialisation is also a huge issue. Studies have shown children becoming introverted and going into themselves.”
Schools are expected to reopen as scheduled, despite growing concerns about the recent surge in daily reported Covid cases.
Education Minister Norma Foley will meet with unions, management bodies, and Department of Education officials today to discuss plans, and has said that “all infection prevention and control measures” are under review.