8 in 10 children face back-to-school anxiety amid pandemic: Kids Help Phone

Thousands of students across Canada returned to school this week amid looming concerns from children, parents and teachers about safety protocols regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Kids Help Phone says eight in 10 children are nervous about returning to school and deem it a major stressor. The national phone service offers professional counselling and volunteer-led, text-based support to youth across Canada. The organization says it has recently experienced a surge in calls stemming from back-to-school anxiety.

“We’ve absolutely seen a big increase in the amount of young people who are reaching out,” Tamar Brannigan from Kids Help Phone told CTV News on Friday. “Our service volume is up 112 per cent from last year … It’s massive the amount of need that we’re seeing.”

The organization says the uptick in calls is likely the result of students who are struggling with the ongoing uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.

“One in three texters who reach out to us through our texting line are saying that they are nervous about back-to-school, so this is huge on young people's minds right now,” Brannigan says. “A lot of those folks who are reaching out are worried about things like isolation and being alone and struggling with their mental [health].”

Multiple provinces have reported positive COVID-19 cases linked to schools in recent days, while provincial health and education officials continue to face scrutiny over their reopening plans.

Health officials in Quebec say up to 120 schools may have already been affected by COVID-19 since classes began last week. More than two dozen schools in Alberta have also reported COVID-19 cases, causing delays to the start of classes. 

The uptick in cases comes as school bus route cancellations pile up in Ontario due to a “severe driver shortage.” Transportation providers say health concerns regarding the pandemic and lack of clarity around safety protocols and access to personal protective equipment has kept drivers off the job.

The uncertainty surrounding schools has made it even more stressful for families who were already struggling before the pandemic hit. Studies suggest that children may be absorbing some of the challenges and stress faced by their parents.

A recent survey from Statistics Canada found that 74 per cent of participants were very concerned for their family in terms of balancing child care, schooling and work. Managing their children’s emotions, stress and anxiety was also noted as a top concern for 61 per cent of respondents.

“Back to school is always a time of big transition and change, and this unprecedented change that we have because of COVID has really just increased those same anxieties that we see year-to-year,” Brannigan says.

Kids Help Phone says they have hundreds of volunteers across the country who work all hours of the day to make sure people get the support they need.

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You can reach a professional counsellor at Kids Help Phone 24/7 by calling 1-800-668-6868. 

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