Last week, I had the privelege of talking to an incredibly brave woman, called Jennifer.
Her story broke my heart in so many different ways.
It spoke for so many voices of the pandemic; The parents and guardians desperate for congruence and understanding; The vulnerable, who have been pushed to the periphery of society. It spoke of the perrenial ills of a fractured social care system and the coldness of the institutional approaches, that govern so much of our every day lives.
When and why did you choose to remove your son, Ahmand from school?
“It was at the very beginning of the pandemic 2020. I was scared. I’m immunosuppressed and my son is autistic. I didn’t take him back to school straight away in September, as I was still wary. It was in October he started back. He refused to remove his mask at dinner times and I found out he wasnt eating or drinking throughout the day. I took him back out. Things just didn’t feel right.
How has this impacted you and your son?
“Ahmand is in his GCSE years. Earlier on in the term, his teachers had told me he was in the top 5 of his class- I was reassured all was well.
We paid for study resources for him over a year ago which would have really helped at home. After constant emails and calls, we finally recieved them the last day of summer term. I knew the teachers were under pressure. I just wanted some indication of the curriculumn so that I had something to go by, to help him.
The school have claimed support for his SEN. They haven’t offered any at all since the pandemic began. We’ve been forgottten. It’s not right.
Instead of offerring help, I was reported to the council last term, for non attendance. It’s been a constant battle, repeating the same emails over and over again.
It wasn’t until mid April 2021 we spoke about him returning. But, by that time, cirmumstances had shifted. We no longer had access to online learning. Passwords had been changed.“
A number of parents had reported this tactic, taken by some headteachers, in a response to attendance disputes. There seemed to be an ignorance to the depths of isolation this caused the students and to the pressure put onto struggling families who had been placed in an impossible postion.
“I tried to reason with them, expressing my concerns on how they were mitigating the risks within the school. The responses were mostly reassurances of table wiping. This is an airborne virus. I would struggle enough with a cold.- They just dont get it. “
The school requested a doctors note to authorise the absence. The response from the surgery was one which echoed what many other parents had received..
Guardians were trapped between two institutions, both blaming the other for following policy guidances too rigidly. Guidances that they themselves, felt obliged to follow. Guidances which didn’t highlight the importance and urgency of discretion. This left families feeling confused and unsupported
“Honestly I could cry. I’m so worried about my boy’s exams and all the education he’s missed. I feel like I’ve failed him. It’s the most awful feeling I’ve ever had. I have no partner, no siblings. My son has no father. My mother died just before the pandemic began and I havent seen my dad since I was 18. If anything happens to me, my son ends up in care. He has no one, but me.
I wanted him to have the life I was denied. It was my job, my responsibility to give him the best chances and opportunities. I feel like I’ve broken his life.
The stress took me close to thinking it would be easier to stop fighting, be done with it and just expose myself. I wanted to throw in the towel.
It feels like some cruel experiment, to see how far people can go in making others suffer when instructed by a superior“
How as a society, have we allowed the failings of policy, to fall at the feet of those in most need of help?
When we keep passing forward the batton of accountability for these harms, we know we are in a very precarious place.
It will take a united voice to make right these wrongs.
As a mum, trying her best to keep her head above water , so eloquently put it-
“Do those in authority need a moral compass, to guide them out of this? “