A GUIDE FOR SCHOOLS
“Most school-anxious/school-refusing children do WANT to attend school however their difficulties and anxiety become overwhelming. They care about their education and want to succeed, however, they need understanding and support at home and at school. They may need adjustments to their daily routines, timetables, or even their school environment. Pressures to focus on attendance rather than the child’s needs can make things even harder to fix.”
SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IN CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE
Children suffer from mental health difficulties for a range of complex reasons. The Government recommends that schools develop a mental health policy that creates an environment where young people with anxiety feel supported, understood, and able to seek help, making it more likely they will feel safe and able to attend school. The Charlie Waller memorial trust provide a sample Mental Health Policy for schools.
ASSESS FOR SEND, PARTICULARLY IF ANXIETY IS THE REASON FOR ABSENCE
Many children have an underlying Special Educational Need or Disability that contributes to their anxiety; this can include Autistic Spectrum Conditions, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or Dyslexia. SEND also include Social, Emotional or Mental Health Difficulties, which could affect a child’s ability to establish friendships, cope with a variety of strong emotions, and increase a child’s vulnerability to bullying.
High levels of anxiety can be classed as a disability and are a barrier to learning requiring the use of assess-plan-do- review cycles. Children and young people who have a consistent, individual support plan which is shared with all staff, will usually be more able to engage with educational opportunities.
MAKE A REFERRAL FOR ASSESSMENT BY AN EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST
In addition to the support put in place by the SENCO, an Educational Psychologist can assess an anxious child and recommend appropriate interventions. This input can be used as the inability to attend school is often a symptom of a significant need or problem that requires more specialist knowledge and understanding.
MAKE OR SUPPORT A REFERRAL TO ‘CAMHS’
Where severe problems occur, which are beyond the range of in-school mental health provision, schools should facilitate the child’s access to more specialist support. The school nurse or school directly can support or provide further evidence to expedite a referral. Parents can also ask for referrals through their GP or Paediatrician, but support from schools goes a long way to ensuring the young people gain access to necessary treatment.
EXPLORE THE LOCAL OFFER
Schools can collaborate with other local services and providers to explore how individual needs can be met most effectively. The Local Offer can be an invaluable source of resources, information, advice and relevant support.
“We recognize that there are limited resources in many schools, but many helpful actions are cost-free! The longer anxious children are unsupported the harder it will be for them to return to school. Continuing to describe anxious children as being ‘fine in school’ means they are less likely to be able to access the help they need to recover and be able to attend regularly and achieve their potential.”
COLLABORATE TO CREATE A CHILD-LED SUPPORT PLAN
It is important that all professionals ensure that children and their parents participate as fully as possible in decisions leading to a support plan. Health professionals can advise schools on developing support plans that should be flexible, child-led and sympathetic to the features of anxiety disorders. Plans must be communicated to all staff, and combined with the development of relevant staff training and whole-school awareness.
APPLY FOR AN EHCP ASSESSMENT
An EHCP application is crucial if a school does not have the expertise or funding to fully identify a child’s needs, or to offer the provision or support a child requires accessing an effective education. Parents can also apply to the LA for an ECHP assessment, but a joint approach will be the most beneficial way forward for all concerned.
AUTHORISE ABSENCE DUE TO ILLNESS
Under parity of esteem, absence due to both physical and mental illness must legally be accepted and accurately recorded; If not, any school will be failing in their legal duty to mark registers correctly. Absence due to illness, medical issues, essential medical appointments etc are all statutory defences by Law and must be marked on the register as authorised absences. Schools also have a duty of care to accommodate children’s medical conditions / needs within reason. The potential legal implications of unauthorized absences rarely help improve absence, will add to a child’s anxiety and substantially increase the difficulties families face. Attendance cannot take priority over health needs. Families need your support rather than penalties and prosecution.
PROVIDE HOMEWORK & CONNECTIONS WHILE THE CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON IS UNABLE TO ATTEND
If a school refuses to supply learning opportunities an absent pupil will get further behind and this adds to anxieties around returning to school. Schools should notify the local authority if absence with a medical cause lasts for over 15 days (consecutive or cumulative). The LA then have a duty to ensure that the child receives alternative educational provision whilst absent.
“Recovery can be a very slow process for many children and young people despite everyone’s best efforts; helping them feel connected, significant and not criticised or unwelcome may encourage that big step back into school.”
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