Principal says child poverty worst she's seen as back-to-school costs keep kids at home

A Napier primary school principal says child poverty has reached some of the worst levels she has ever seen. 

A KidsCan survey found back-to-school costs are putting so much financial stress on families, it means children are missing school.

Meeanee School principal Gill Scarlett says schools are going out of their way to try and make it as affordable as they can, by changing to uniforms with no logos or reducing stationery costs, but they need more support to help struggling families. 

"I think some households are really stretched," Scarlett says.

"Parents need to have access to free uniform and basic clothing and schools need relationships with stores too so parents can go and buy basic lunch needs."

She says families have a lot more to contend with now with technology and housing and employment issues. All these things affect how they prioritize spending in their household.  

The survey highlighted one heartbreaking case of four siblings sharing one uniform, so they went on different days. And the mum was too embarrassed to tell anyone.

Scarlett believes the stresses from home life impact more on children than they let on and the schools have an important role to create connections with families to help break down the stigma of asking for help. 

"Children do a very good job of covering up what happens at home. It comes down to the relationships the schools have with their children as to how much assistance we are then able to give," says Scarlett.

The KidsCan charity support low-decile schools across the country and aims to ease the cost on families so kids can go to school and learn. This year they are supporting 787 schools - a record number.