Antwerp aims to track down and help poor schoolchildren
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Antwerp aims to track down and help poor schoolchildren

The city of Antwerp has launched a new system designed to identify families in financial difficulties so as to be able to step in early and help them.

The system involves deploying staff known as Welfare Anchors, in an initial phase in six schools, who are trained to spot the signs of a family in difficulties, allowing the city’s welfare agencies to come in and help the family out before the situation becomes worse.

Poverty affects many families, and the current health situation has made the problem worse for those already on the brink. The classic social aid agencies already have their hands full with families who have come forward for help voluntarily.

However there is another layer to the problem: families who are in difficulty but are trying to keep their troubles quiet, whether from denial or from a conviction the problem is temporary and will soon pass.

And especially in these times of reduced contact between people, that problem is at risk of going unnoticed.

Now two social workers from the city’s Poverty agency Extra have been detailed to work with six schools from the different education networks. Their task is to look among the students for signs of poverty at home – which can range from educational problems caused by the lack of computers at home to social problems like arriving at school without having eaten or without the means of having lunch.

Once the signs are spotted, the Extra agency will be able to step in and guide the family towards finding help, whether administration, housing, finance or psychological.

Our city still has a lot of hidden poverty,” said Tom Meeuws, city councillor for the fight against poverty. The shame that parents often feel means that the step to providing care is not taken early enough. But it is not that easy to find your way through that wide range of services on offer. Sometimes people can no longer see the wood for the trees.”

Schools are often the perfect place to pick up on the signals of poverty, but in many cases the school is not perfectly placed to steer the family in the right direction.

We cannot expect this from schools either,” Meeuws said. Our Welfare Anchors must be able to relieve them of that problem. In this way, school teams and ]the pupil support office] CLB will have more time for pedagogical tasks and psychosocial support.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times