How to spot child hunger at school
Many schools, particularly in more deprived areas, have also been working with charities and local businesses to ensure that children were not left hungry when their free school meals were stopped, either during the holidays or in the event of a ‘bubble’ being sent home unexpectedly.
As pupils return for a new academic year, how can schools and their staff make sure that they stay aware of any children who might be vulnerable to food insecurity and chronic hunger?
- Unusual behaviour:
A hungry child can often exhibit that they’re struggling with hunger in ways that aren’t always obvious. If you notice that a student has become hyperactive, aggressive, irritable, anxious or withdrawn, it might be that they’re struggling with chronic hunger. An inability to focus is can also be a sign that a child is hungry.
- Unexplained absence or illness:
Repeated absences, either unexplained or due to sickness, will often trigger safeguarding concerns to be investigated by a school. Chronic hunger can frequently be the reason why a child is struggling with illness, with symptoms like a sore throat, common cold, stomach ache, ear infection and fatigue more common in those who are hungry or malnourished.
- Changes in appearance:
Of course, weight loss or extreme thinness could indicate that a child is struggling with hunger. However, there are also other changes to physical appearance that could indicate food insecurity. Look out for redness around the lips, as well as dry or itchy eyes. Both these signs will often demonstrate a vitamin deficiency and should prompt further investigation.
- Changes to their environment at home:
Some children are naturally more communicative than others, but if a student tells you or a member of staff something that might mean that their family are struggling financially, this could help identify food insecurity and chronic hunger. For example, if a pupil says their mother or father has recently lost their job, this could mean that the student will need further support to avoid going hungry.
- Drop in performance:
There is an abundance of evidence that chronic hunger has a serious impact on a child’s attainment at school, negatively impacting vital skills like working memory and concentration. If a student’s performance drops unexpectedly or without a clear cause, it could be that they are suffering from chronic hunger.
It is important that schools, local authorities and charities work closely together to identify at risk individuals or groups as soon as possible, and react as appropriate.
At the RRT, we run regular Community Connect events providing hot meals and signposting resources and charities for families who might need them. We also support schools in creating a fun and engaging approach to food and healthy eating.
Our specialist education packs, delivered to schools across the UK, contain a workbook, crayons, a bowl, a spoon, a water bottle and a ‘Porridge To Go’ Cereal Bar. Once students receive their box, they are directed to an informative, fun-filled twelve-minute video, in which our mascot Cookie the Kookaburra explores the best ways to start the school day – from beginning the day with calming breathing exercises, to the importance of staying hydrated.
As we look forward to a future where no child goes hungry, it is vital that we don’t let any young people fall through the cracks. We hope that the day will come where no child has to worry about their next meal but until then, it’s vital we act fast in supporting vulnerable pupils.