This recent BBC article either reflects the governments failures in education, or their inability to understand children’s mental health, but you would imagine it actually reflects both. Intimidating vulnerable families to send their child to school despite their mental health struggles is, frankly, just cruel, and could potentially lead to serious consequences for the child’s mental health and safety.

At Cove Care, where we work with many young people who can struggle with their school attendance through no fault of their own but as a result of their underlying emotional and mental health conditions, we would advise any concerned parents to consider the following:

  • Contact the school and notify them of the specific issue/s that your child is experiencing. This will ensure the staff will be aware of their current difficulties and absences are logged appropriately
  • Request contacts for the schools safeguarding and mental health first aid officers. Ask what their care plan is / would be for your child’s specific difficulties
  • If you can, follow these discussions up in emails and request responses so you have a record of your conversations
  • Has your child been formally referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)? If so you may well be entitled to a temporary medical sign-off from school under provisions of the Education Act
  • This will certainly be the case if your child has been admitted for inpatient assessment / treatment at any point, and you might also be entitled to further provisions of support under the Mental Health Act  
  • If there isn’t a formal involvement with CAMHS, you should still go to your GP with your child and report their difficulties as you would any physical health issue. This might signpost your child for more specialist mental health support, but at the very least will ensure a formal record and might also afford you some of the medical support with potential school absences listed above  
  • You and your child will know what will work best in terms of encouraging attendance at school safely and without compromising their mental health or safety. But generally:
    • Positive behavioural support (such as proportionate rewards for engagement) work far better than sanctions or punishments (which ironically seems to be the governments own approach on this issue)
    • Avoidance / prevention if you can of the child accessing toxic social media / web content
    • Promotion as far as possible of their accessing a positive peer culture within the school environment, i.e. encourage positive friendships. This is a clearly-evidenced protective factor for children with mental health difficulties
    • From your discussions with the school listed above, write a plan with your child of what to do in the event of them experiencing difficulties at school, and who they can see if they need to.

If you would like further advice and more specific guidance on these issues, Enquire is a good resource for parents. If you would like further information on ourselves at Cove Care, where we are currently actively recruiting, you might like to visit our website.