TORONTO -- After living in a hoarding situation and dealing with verbal abuse growing up, an Ontario mother is warning about the risks to children if they do not return to classrooms in the fall.

In a Facebook post, Bronwen Goouch-Alsop shared her childhood experience with her mother who was later diagnosed with a severe personality disorder, schizophrenia and a hoarding disorder. Goouch-Alsop said her mother also struggled with substance abuse.

"I grew up in this from 7 years of age until 12 years old. My daily haven away from this disaster intertwined with emotional and verbal abuse was 5 full days of school away from my mother’s home. Every morning when she dropped me off to school I knew I was safe away from the smells of rotting garbage and stumbling over garbage at every corner," Goouch-Alsop wrote in the post shared on Tuesday.

Goouch-Alsop, who now works in early childhood education, told CTVNews.ca that going to school "saved" her. She added that if she was a child trapped in her mother's home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she doesn’t know if she would have survived.

"For me, getting out to school where I had a normal life for a short period of time every day was my haven, because I could be away from it," Goouch-Alsop said Thursday in a phone interview. "The school was my safe haven where I could be with people that seemed normal, that seemed to have happy lives, I could be with my friends, I could be with teachers that didn't abuse me verbally… School saved me."

Goouch-Alsop included pictures in her Facebook post of what her mother's home looked like, showing garbage, dirty dishes and other items piled on the counter tops and hallway floors. She explained that no one knew what was going on because her mother wouldn't let people into the home.

"I'd wake up and there'd be rotting food all over the kitchen, I never saw the counter because there was no room, there was just garbage everywhere… I would trip all over things to get into the living room to have breakfast, the garbage was never put out, everything was just sort of sprawled all over our house," Goouch-Alsop said.

When she was 12 years old, Goouch-Alsop said she was able to talk to her teacher and her school's vice-principal about what was going on at home. Her father -- who had joint custody of Goouch-Alsop at the time -- intervened with the help of her aunt and was able to remove Goouch-Alsop from her mother’s care.

"If I hadn't been at school that day… I might not have ever gotten out of there," Goouch-Alsop said.

SCHOOL PROVIDES KIDS WITH 'CONSISTENCY'

Her experience growing up is one of the main reasons why Goouch-Alsop is advocating for children to return to school full-time in the fall, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Children right now are being abused in homes that might look picture perfect. I grew up in a wealthy neighborhood, I went to a private school, but it wasn't perfect on the inside it was a nightmare and I was being abused, but no one knew," she said.

"I am extremely concerned that this may be the case for many other kids if they don’t have school every day."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday that he wants to see students back in the classroom this fall, as the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in the province continues to decrease.

Ford acknowledges that the plan is not without risk and says his government will "continue planning for every possible scenario" to keep kids safe as they get back to school.

However, Goouch-Alsop said children should have been more of a priority in the early stages of Ontario’s reopening, adding that a plan for schools should have been in place "months ago."

"We know this isn’t going to be like what it was before, but we need to create a new way of life in schools for the sake of children and for the sake of the educators' safety. The Ontario government needs to step up and financially support the schools or else it needs to go to a federal level," Goouch-Alsop said.

In June, the Ontario government released three potential plans for how schools will operate in September.

These include students returning to in-person instruction while adhering to public health measures, continue using remote learning strengthened by live instruction, or taking part in a mix of the first two options that will see students attend school on alternative days or weeks.

Despite there being potential plans in place, Goouch-Alsop said children need consistency in their lives and not knowing what is going to happen in a few months can create extra stress for them, their parents and the teachers.

"Doing things inconsistently like that -- having a hybrid plan where they're going to school one day and then they're off, it would be so hard for them to develop a new normal life," Goouch-Alsop said.

"Kids learn better consistently through daily Monday to Friday learning, so to have them in and out all the time, the children would really struggle and it would create more work for the teachers."

Goouch-Alsop -- who's three-year-old son is deaf and hard of hearing and who's daughter, 5, has ADHD and sensory processing disorder -- said not returning to school will be especially hard on parents of children with special needs.

"[My daughter] was doing really, really well in school, watching all of her friends playing, role modeling what they were doing, and sort of stepping out of that fear of things that she had with her sensory processing disorder, but… as soon as the pandemic hit, she regressed," Goouch-Alsop explained.

Goouch-Alsop said children with special needs don't get the same experience from their parents as they do being around other children in a classroom setting. She said remote learning also has not worked for her daughter, adding that even getting her to engage in her therapy via online sessions has been difficult.

"She refused to go out at all, or walk around the block to get some fresh air, because when you have a lot of sensory issues, the wind or even just temperature changes can really effect you," Goouch-Alsop said. "But when she was in school, her teacher said she had no problem going outside for recess, she would just follow all the other kids."

HEALTH RISKS VS. CONCERNS OF ABUSE

While Goouch-Alsop understands the health and safety concerns with children being in school full-time, she said being in the classroom only part-time may actually increase their exposure to COVID-19.

Goouch-Alsop explained that, while those children aren’t in school, they may be attending child care or stay in different family members homes while their parents continue to work, increases their risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

There have been 7,888 cases of COVID-19 in patients under the age of 20 in Canada, according to Public Health Agency of Canada data last updated Monday night. Of those thousands of young infected patients, only one has died.

Studies have shown that kids are less likely to die of the novel coronavirus, however infectious disease specialists have warned that not enough is known about how the virus affects children to decide whether returning to school is safe.

Despite the potential health risks, Goouch-Alsop said school authorities don’t know what’s going on in students’ lives when they’re at home.

She said, for some, staying at home amid the pandemic may cause more harm than good.

"Not all children are safe and you don’t know what’s happening behind those doors that look safe or normal. Younger children during this time don't have a voice to speak out when they are abused because they are terrified. I was one of those children," Goouch-Alsop wrote in her post.

"We need to give families all options but remember that children aren't able to have their say here to vocalize what they want or need when abuse is involved. I personally would [have] taken the risks of COVID over living daily in this home."

 

This is a very personal post and the photos can be quite disturbing. So I warn you before you look. This is a picture of...

Posted by Bronwen Goouch-Alsop on Tuesday, July 14, 2020