Mental health support proposed amid ‘school refusal’ crisis

School refusal

In the wake of an Australian Senate inquiry into an alarming rise of “school refusal” among Australian students, recommendations for improved mental health provisions and adaptable schooling methods have been proposed.

The inquiry highlights a surge in absenteeism, which the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated. Disturbingly, nearly half of all students are reported to have missed about one in every ten school days last year, emphasising the need for immediate action.

The investigation draws attention to the consequences of debilitating anxiety related to attending school, which has led to some children resorting to or contemplating suicide. In light of these tragic outcomes, the inquiry demands a more comprehensive approach to tackling the mental health challenges faced by students.

The report underscores the urgency of embracing flexible alternatives to conventional teaching strategies to better accommodate those grappling with school attendance difficulties.

Revealing a disturbing facet of the issue, the inquiry discloses instances where schools have resorted to threats of fines and legal action against families rather than extending assistance to help anxious children re-engage in their educational journey.

The report even details cases where parents’ relationships have crumbled under the pressure, and children have expressed a preference for death over attending school.

School refusal is not truancy

The Senate education committee’s report underscores the profound impact of “school refusal” on the overall well-being of young individuals. It emphasises that these young minds are desperate to access education, establish connections with peers and shape their aspirations for the future.

Regrettably, for many, school itself has become a source of trauma and anxiety that they are unable to surmount.

The inquiry underscores that “school refusal” is distinct from truancy, with its root causes lying in “anxiety and shame.”

Mental health challenges, bullying and learning setbacks during the pandemic have all contributed to the amplification of school anxiety. As a consequence, the report calls upon state and territory governments to overhaul child health screening programmes for early detection of autism, ADHD, anxiety and learning disorders, while also advocating for additional support.

The committee proposes expanding Medicare subsidies to grant children access to more than the current allotment of 10 visits to counsellors or psychologists annually, despite existing “significant wait times.”

Furthermore, the inquiry underscores the necessity for better training for teachers and principals in handling attendance-related challenges and the incorporation of specialised staff within schools.

The report maintains that the conventional schooling system may not be suited for all children, advocating for greater flexibility. This flexibility could include focusing on specific subjects of interest, part-time attendance, or even remote learning.

Senators assert that a more balanced approach between academic achievement and well-being would yield benefits for all students, especially those grappling with “school refusal.”


The Australian

CathNews New Zealand

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