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Unsung education heroes want funding to tackle cyclone-related trauma in children

A new report from NZEI Te Riu Roa shows principals and teachers in the Hawke’s Bay region affected by Cyclone Gabrielle feel overworked, unsupported and underprepared to navigate the emerging longtail issues of the cyclone.

Over the last year, children have shown increased behavioural changes, symptoms of psychological trauma, and anxiety triggered by bad weather. Despite this, there has been no commitment to continuing relief funding for counsellors and extra teaching staff from Government.

Principals and teachers were critical to the disaster response efforts, often acting as the first point of contact to communities. A principal interviewed for the research said:

“Schools, particularly rural schools, are at the centre of the community…that’s where people will flock to in times of need. The role of the principal is to be ready to be the leader of that community and that’s not just your school community, not just your parents, but everybody within the community.”

Just over one year on, educators are juggling their own emotional response to the cyclone, a changing professional role that went from educator to disaster response manager, along with emerging behavioural changes in children.

“No one approached me about wellbeing. No one approached me about counselling for the kids. No one said anything,” said a principal interviewed.

Principals and teachers interviewed for the report warn the Government against taking a ‘wait and see’ approach with tamariki, and emphasised the danger of wanting to see behavioural issues get worse before committing to funding. One principal asked:

“How long is it going to be for our kids before they’re OK when it starts raining? How long and what’s that effect going to be on us as teachers having to deal with that as a long-term process?”

Research on trauma devlopment says symptoms continue to develop over time. The educators are calling for funding to come sooner and not later so children benefit from a preventative approach.

The report makes six recommendations to support schools in their role leading the disaster response.

  • Recognition of the distinct role schools play in disaster responses, and resourcing for support
  • Recognition of the role early childhood education centres play in disaster responses as being equal to that of schools, and resource them appropriately
  • System level support, resourcing and planning for climate related disasters
  • Communications and energy security
  • Extension of additional staffing for at least a further 12 months, additional curriculum staffing in primary schools to support education and pastoral care
  • Ongoing mental-health and wellbeing support for ākonga and school staff
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