Mental health charity pushes government to help children with ‘school phobia’

As reported by Newsround, the mental health charity Mind wants the government to do more to help children who suffer from ‘school phobia’

School phobia, also known as school refusal, is when a child refuses to go to school very often or has problems staying in school.

Extreme fear and anxiety are often big reasons why.

Mind is calling for the government to recognise that these children have mental health problems and that they should be allowed to miss school, rather than being treated as truants.

What is school phobia?

At the moment there is no definition for school phobia, but Mind says school refusal is when a child “completely refuses to go to school”.

Some children leave home in the morning and develop difficulties as they get closer to school and then are unable to go further.

It’s often accompanied by physical symptoms too, such as stomach aches, headaches, feeling sick or dizzy, fast heartbeats, and the child begging to stay at home.

Charity, Young Minds, says there can be lots of reasons a young person feels this way.

It might be that they feel overwhelmed with anxiety about schoolwork or relationships with friends and teachers.

They might be experiencing bullying and not feel able to talk about it, or they might have low self-esteem.

A young person who is refusing to go to school might also be worried about things going on at home, including big life changes such as family breakdowns or bereavement.

Things like this happening, can mean that a child might be more likely to worry that bad things will happen at home, while they are at school.

It’s not known how many children in the UK are affected by school phobia, but the Anxiety and Depression Society of America says anxiety-based school refusal affects two to five out of every 100 school-aged children.

What is the law?

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In the UK a child must get a full-time education between the ages of five and 16.

They can only be absent if they’re too ill to go in to school or their parents/guardian have got advance permission from the school.

Otherwise their parents can get fined or, in some extreme cases, they might even be sent to prison.

The Department for Education state that, “Parents have a legal duty to ensure their child of compulsory school age attends school regularly”.

If a child has an unauthorised absence from school – that means they don’t have permission to not be there – then they’re classed as truanting.

What do parents and charities want to happen?

Mind wants the government to look into the way school absence is recorded so that it better takes into account the reasons why children and young people with mental health problems might be struggling to go to school.

Vicki Nash from Mind said: “All children and young people have a right to education, and they should get the help and support they need to thrive at school.”

Two parent-led groups – Square Peg and Not Fine in School (NFIS) – have written to the Department for Education and have started a petition.

They want the system to change to better help parents who otherwise may get punished if their child has ‘school phobia’ and doesn’t go to school.

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