What should we do if a child is struggling to attend school or college

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Barriers to School Attendance     —————————————->

NFIS: Define Fine Schools Guide Summary V3

Support Mental Health Issues in Children & Young

Children and young people experience 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 and mental health problems feel supported, understood, and able to seek help, making it more likely they will feel safe and able to attend school.

Assess and Acknowledge  Special Educational Needs and Disabilities 

Many children with SEND experience attendance barriers,  especially those with needs not yet fully assessed, understood  and supported.    ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, executive functioning, processing and working memory and other learning differences, including social emotional and mental health difficulties,  may affect a child’s ability to learn, to communicate or regulate emotions.  They will usually need reasonable adjustments.

Support Referrals to CAMHS & other Health Care Professionals
Where significant mental health problems occur, a child may need to access more specialist support including CAMHS, paediatricians, OT and SALT, and other local providers.  Parents can ask for referrals through their GP.  The school nursing team or health navigator can sometimes make, expediate or coordinate referrals.   Unfortunately, long wait times for referrals can compound the problem, but support from school goes a long way to ensuring students gain access to necessary treatment.

Make a Referral for Assessment by an Educational Psychologist
An Educational Psychologist can assess a child’s barriers to learning child and recommend appropriate interventions. This input can be useful as being unable to attend school is often a symptom of a significant need or problem perhaps  not  yet identified, and therefore requires more specialist knowledge and recommendations.

Working together

Work together to produce a support plan
 It is important to ensure that children, their parents, and school work together in developing flexible, child-led and individualised support plans as soon as they can,  incorporating advice from professionals where possible. This plan should be communicated to all staff, and if necessary supported by relevant staff training and whole-school awareness.  A child may also need a SEND support plan and a health care plan and for school to use their best endeavours and reasonable adjustments.

Social Care / Early Help Referrals
Families may benefit from early help support. Any referrals should be assessed quickly,  thoroughly and be evidence-based as school attendance difficulties are not necessarily safeguarding or parenting problems. It is vital that there is a multi-agency understanding of the issues and policies surrounding these difficulties. Any interventions must be led by professionals who are suitably qualified and experienced in SEND, mental health and school attendance difficulties.

Apply for an *EHC Needs Assessment or a review of an existing EHCP
An EHC Needs Assessment may be necessary if a school does not have the expertise or funding to fully identify a child’s education, health and care needs, or to offer the provision or support a child requires to access an effective education. It may be that the child needs an alternative to full-time mainstream education.  Parents can also make an application to the LA for an ECHP assessment, but a joint approach will be the most beneficial way forward.*or Statement if in Scotland or Wales.

Take action for all incidents of  Bullying and Assault.  

There are legal duties on schools and LAs to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. School anti-bullying policies should set out the actions which will be taken to prevent or address bullying -including racism and LGBT. The DfE have produced peer sexual violence guidance for schools & colleges.  Be aware that children with  SEND can be at an increased risk of vulnerability to bullying .

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Explore your Local Authority’s Local Offer
Schools can collaborate with other local services and providers to meet individual needs effectively. The Local Offer can be an invaluable source of resources, information, advice and relevant support.

Provide Learning and  Connections while the Student is unable to attend.
Not supplying learning opportunities, or connections during absence means a student may fall further behind, which can contribute to anxieties around returning to school. A school’s duty to educate does not stop because a student is absent due to illness,  SEND (diagnosed or not) or bullying.

Schools should notify the LA a child is absent from school due to illness, or other reasons, over 15 days (consecutive or cumulative). The LA then have a duty to ensure that a child receives alternative educational provision whilst absent. Even if they are unable to attend school should still maintain connections.

Absence due to Physical or Mental Illness should be Authorised
Families need support rather than threats of fines or prosecution (which rarely help to resolve attendance difficulties). The potential legal implications of unauthorised absences will add to a child’s anxiety and substantially increase the difficulties families face. Consideration of the long waiting times and high thresholds for referrals to NHS specialists indicates that attendance cannot take priority over health needs.

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Give children and families a voice

Observe and Listen.

Trust is vital between home and school,  and all professionals.  Encourage parents to seek out peer support, including Define Fine:  Peer Support for School Attendance Difficulties

Most of all – make sure you check out what is meant by Fine.  Define Fine.

Some professionals are at a loss to know how to help.  They may try to help with advice based on their understanding or opinions. Really plans should be child-led, and evidence-based approaches. So many of our parents report being referred onto parenting courses, and or to Early help, only to find that the support they are offered isn’t suitable for these kinds of difficulties. It’s important to work with professionals and share recommendations for exploring the issues and in making a plan.

Each child and young person needs someone to listen, to advocate for their needs. Quite often this is their parents, who have usually known the child for the longest, and probably know them the best.

If a child tries to explain what they find hard about the school, about learning, relationships, the environment – or whatever else they are struggling with they need to have a voice. If they report bullying, including assault, this must be investigated and dealt with properly.

There will be a way forward, but it may not be the path they are currently on. They may need adjustments or flexibility. They may need somewhere or something else.

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