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8. Survey Conclusion

School Phobia Survey Conclusion:

In Youth Mental Health Canada’s nation-wide survey on school phobia and chronic absenteeism, families shared with us heartbreaking stories of their children’s experiences of school phobia and chronic absenteeism. It is our responsibility to respond to these stories with compassion and action.

Students with school phobia experience attitudinal, societal, systemic, and structural discrimination through exclusionary policies, actions, and practices. A significant part of the student population has been ignored for too long.

We need to see greater accountability for meeting the disability and learning needs of students with chronic mental health and school phobia disabilities: with school-based approaches, innovative strategies, and the use of motivators for getting students out of mental health crises.

Youth suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility. Suicide risk factors increase when student disability needs are not understood, accommodated, and respected, and when students do not feel included and valued. For all societal systems to take an active responsibility in youth suicide prevention, we need greater action on supporting students with mental health and school phobia disabilities.

School communities need greater compassionate tools for responding to students who are struggling with their mental health and experience school phobia and chronic absenteeism, so that we do not contribute to the silence, stigma, discrimination, and taboos that exist. Parents also need support and guidance in their attempts to maintain their child’s education – to negotiate with school and school board staff; attend health care appointments, and search for understanding, information, and solutions.

The following is an overview of some of the needs for students, families, and schools:

Students with school phobia need:

  • Informed support of their mental health disabilities
  • Comprehensive needs-based educational accommodations
  • An Education Support Team that works together to support them
  • A school-based awareness of and response to mental health and wellness issues
  • A comprehensive support and re-entry plan
  • Compassionate awareness of and response to school-induced anxiety and phobic disorders
  • To know that they will not be punished for their disabilities and inability to attend school, complete assignments, and homework, and catch up on missed work
  • To feel included, supported, understood, and valued whether they are present or absent from school

Families of children with school phobia need:

  • People to respond to their children’s issues of school phobia with compassion and action
  • To feel listened to, validated, supported, and included
  • To feel a valued part of their child’s education support team
  • To lead and guide all interventions, supports and services to address their child’s school phobia disabilities
  • To not feel or be judged, criticized, blamed, shamed, or punished for their child’s mental health disabilities
  • To not be penalized or experience punitive action for their child’s mental health disabilities
  • Direct funding to support the disability and education needs of their children
  • To not feel pressured to remove their child from school to home school them
  • To be aware of what the school is doing to support their child
  • To be included in all meetings to discuss their child’s education and disability accommodation needs

Schools Need:

Accommodation Strategies:

  • Compassionate tools for responding to students who are struggling with their mental health and experience school phobia and chronic absenteeism
  • To ensure that they do not contribute to the silence, stigma, discrimination, and taboos that exist against people with mental health disabilities
  • Policies and procedures that provide thorough assessment of needs, concerns, and strengths, thoughtful support and re-entry plans, and clear direction to all school staff and transparency to families
  • To focus on motivators that encourage access to school such as early morning school responsibilities providing library or office support: motivators can reduce fears and school anxiety and encourage the use of strengths like responsibility
  • To be flexible and innovative in identifying ways to support students with school phobia
  • To be proactive in responding to early warning signs of school-based anxiety
  • To identify ways to increase awareness of mental health and wellness and school-induced anxiety and phobia issues, including mental health screenings with triaged support, YMHC workshops and training courses, first week orientation and assembly to introduce school support professionals and community resources available
  • To seek outside support from professionals, systems, and organizations
  • To comply with disability and human rights policies and legislation and accessible guidelines in education

Attendance Strategies:

  • To develop a new attendance code that is supported by comprehensive research, successful school phobia response plans and guidance by school boards, professional organizations, and governments.
  • To create a new legal attendance/absence code that will measure the scale of chronic absenteeism due to school phobia, ensure a consistent school response, and alleviate parents from the threat of prosecution.
  • To measure the scale of this growing problem.
  • To document lengthy periods of non-attendance at school/chronic absenteeism due to mental health disabilities
  • To understand the breadth of the problem and ensure a consistent approach across all schools

Mental Health Disability Awareness:

  • To provide YMHC training for school staff on school phobia
  • To understand and accept the complexity of issues to consider and the individual nature of each experience of school phobia and chronic absenteeism
  • To use language that does not stigmatize or blame the student with mental health disabilities, including “school refusal”
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