With her son missing weeks of school at a time, Georgina Ker followed the prescription of “tough love” that she believed would cure her son’s “behavior problem.”
- New data reveals more than one in three parents have faced refusal to go to school in the last 12 months
- The senator who commissioned the investigation says the scale of the problem is greater than previously thought
- Parents say addressing ‘stressors’ behind rejection, rather than ‘tough love’, helped
The mother of four confiscated her house key and packed up the family’s gaming console, games and controllers every day to store at work.
“When you’re in that situation, you get well-meaning advice from schools, from professionals, saying ‘tough love,’ ‘make home a no fun place and they’ll go to school.'” Ms Ker said.
His repression came at a time of desperation when school refusal seemed to be taking over his life.
“I am separated from the father of my older children, which has made things very difficult with this co-parenting relationship, but it has also put a lot of strain on my relationship with my current partner and we also have a small child,” said Mrs. said Ker.
“It affected my job, it affected my own physical health, so I gained a lot of weight and had to take anti-anxiety medication myself.”
She said she still clearly remembers the hot summer day, when the weather reached 37 degrees Celsius, where “tough love” failed.
She forced her son through the school gate and went to work, not realizing that he would walk home as soon as his car was out of sight.
“He would actually sit on the porch all day, with very little water, on a hot day, rather than go to school,” Ms Ker said.
“That’s when I realized it wasn’t just a matter of refusing to go to school, that he physically couldn’t and that tough love won’t wasn’t working. It was putting his health at risk.”
Address an emerging problem by reducing stressors
School systems around the world are struggling with school refusal, an emerging problem that can tear families apart and leave children in extreme mental distress.
It is defined as different from regular truancy because it is a long-term program and students do not hide their actions or engage in antisocial behavior.
Ms Ker said a growing number of parents were finding the answer was to tackle “stressors” which could build up to the point where students felt unable to leave the house.
After therapy, which restored trust and “healed” their relationship, her son was able to return to school with a term of distance learning followed by a move to a private school.
He finished grade 12 last week.
“It’s a big financial burden, so I’m lucky to be able to manage it, but there are a lot of people who can’t. They’re the ones who really fall through the cracks,” Ms. Ker.
The lessons made it easier when Ms. Ker’s 15-year-old daughter began missing a similar number of schools, only attending about half the time.
Both of her children have ADHD and her daughter also has autism.
According to the peer support network School Can’t, which has 10,000 members, about 75 percent of students in its community have disabilities.
Attendance problems are often linked to a lack of inclusion in the education system.
Parents like Georgina Ker felt enormous gratitude when a bipartisan Senate investigation acknowledged the pain many families experience, rejected tough love and called for a national action plan to combat child refusal. ‘school.
Calls for more inclusive education have also been a key topic of the disability royal commission, and a Senate inquiry into ADHD released this week recommended more training on recognizing and meeting the needs of people with ADHD in schools.
‘Shocking’ poll suggests school refusal is a wider problem
The Senate inquiry into school refusal recommended commissioning a national follow-up because there was little data available on the subject – until now.
Greens senator and former teacher Penny Allman-Payne commissioned a national poll of 1,000 parents which was broadcast exclusively on ABC News.
When the results were weighted between public and private schools, 39 percent of parents agreed or strongly agreed that their child had faced school refusal in the past year.
“The fact that it’s that high is shocking. The fact that it’s happening is not,” Senator Allman-Payne said.
“We certainly heard during the Senate inquiry that a large number of families have been facing the inability to attend school for some time.”
Senator Allman-Payne said schools were not always a good environment for young people.
“This has always been very evident to me as a teacher,” Senator Allman-Payne said.
“You know, you would walk into a government office where a politician worked and it was always a really pleasant, pleasant environment, and yet it is normal for governments to expect young people to show up in rooms every day class which are old., noisy, poorly insulated, poorly lit.”
The government must provide a response to the Senate inquiry’s 14 recommendations – which included additional mental health support and earlier interventions – by Friday.
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare is also negotiating a new school funding deal and faces pressure to provide the $6 billion needed to ensure public schools meet their minimum funding levels.
In a statement to ABC News, Mr Clare said the federal government was considering its response to the Senate inquiry and said it was a “complex” issue.
“Over the last 10 years we have seen a decline in attendance rates across the board, among boys and girls, primary and secondary schools, government and non-government schools, in the bush and in the cities” , said Mr. Clare. .
He said attendance was being monitored by states and solutions would be explored when education ministers meet to discuss a recently completed report on school funding which would include how to improve wellbeing children at school.
“Because if you feel better, you will do better in school,” Mr Clare said.
Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson has called on the Government to take action on school refusal so pupils do not miss their chance at education.
“I call on the Albanian government to accept all of the report’s recommendations, particularly the provision of more subsidized mental health care visits,” said Senator Henderson.
The numbers are “staggering”
School Can’t board member and volunteer Tiffany Westphal said the survey numbers were “staggering.”
“That doesn’t surprise us. It’s a pretty staggering number, 39 per cent of students, which probably equates to 1.5 million students across Australia,” Ms Westphal said.
“This is evidence of high stress in the school context.”
Ms. Westphal said the survey’s limitation was that it did not establish the severity of students’ school refusal, meaning the number of students missing a large portion of school was likely lower.
The Senate inquiry recommended that School Can’t receive funding to enable it to create its own website and reduce the three-month waiting time for new members.
“School Can’t Australia finds that students are unable to attend school and there are barriers and stressors that impact their ability to attend school,” said Mrs. Westphal.
“Our use of School Can’t is to help people reframe their view of the problem.”
His advice to schools facing this problem:
- Creating “safe” people and spaces for students facing school refusal
- Helping teachers better understand signs of student distress
- Help students communicate this distress to their teacher
- Understanding masking where students may appear fine, but are very distressed
- Managing the expectations of students faced with school refusal