Answers to questions teachers, counsellors & parents need to know!
School Refusal (School Phobia, School Can't, School Attendance Problem) is a debilitating condition in which children and teens experience extreme anxiety and/or panic attacks when faced with everyday school life. Young people's experiences of school refusal can range from mild to severe, with some students able to attend school but unable to complete work, while others cannot attend school at all and exhibit signs of severe distress (flight, fight, freeze, shutdown). Mild experiences include expressing reluctance to go to school, reports of feeling unwell, anxiety before the school week, persistently late to school and/or may miss several days of school each term. Severe experiences often persist for more than six months with some children unable to leave their room or home. Symptoms might include labile mood, aggression, avoidance, atypical sleep patterns, clinical depression and/or severe anxiety. Parents also report rapid escalation to self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts when an expectation to return to school is placed on the student.
Childhood anxiety is increasing in the community and each year schools are challenged by the complexities of School Refusal. There is also a general consensus that the pandemic has increased the prevalence of both anxiety and school refusal further. Virtual Schools Victoria reported that intakes for students with school refusal presentations increased from 386 in 2018 to 895 in 2022 (32% of total enrolments) and 'Triple P International suggested that rates of school refusal had 'tripled since COVID-19'. In addition, ReachOut reported more users accessing an online school refusal resource, with the largest growth in NSW and VIC (growth of 127 per cent and 114 per cent respectively). A recent comment by the Principals' Association described the effects of the pandemic on school refusal as 'school refusal, but it's now on steroids'. While the pandemic intensified the issue of school refusal, the rate of School Refusal had been increasing well before the pandemic, with education and health systems now becoming overwhelmed by demand to provide support.*
School refusal rates in Victoria are estimated to have increased by 50 per cent between 2018 and 2021
Despite its prevalence, school refusal is poorly understood and often poorly managed. How schools respond is pivotal as everyday counts. The longer the child is away from school, the more difficult it is to resume normal school life. When poorly managed the impact of School Refusal is far reaching and life changing. Some students fail to return to school full time and some never return at all. All experience serious disadvantage across the lifespan including, but not limited to: poorer health and mental health, poor relationships, low academic attainment, early school leaving, social difficulties, loss of income and greater rates of unemployment. The impact of school refusal goes far beyond the individual and often places significant burden on parents and carers. For parents and carers, school refusal can take a toll on their financial, physical and mental health. School refusal can also lead to tension and resentment within the broader family unit and, in some cases, can contribute to family breakdown.
This interactive, one day workshop explores the causes, co-morbidities and treatment of School Refusal in children and young people, along with providing step-by-step plans and strategies for educators, health professionals and parents to identify and address the problem. Combining educational and clinical perspectives, the workshop uses real case studies to demonstrate the varied reasons students disengage from school, and how tailored interventions and return to school plans, can meet the specific needs of individual children. This instructive workshop identifies and explores the complex workings of School Refusal and provides a structured best-practice approach to overcoming it. Topics include:
- What is School Refusal/School Phobia/School Can't/School Attendance Problem?
- How school refusal presents in the classroom and home.
- Differentiating between school refusal and truancy
- Why do children refuse to go to school?
- Why an informed and individual approach is needed
- The impacts of School Refusal and why early response is critical in decreasing the length of absence.
- Home schooling and distance education. Often touted as a solution to this problem. The advantages and disadvantages are explored.
- What professionals can do: practical responses for workers at all levels.
- What parents can do: engaging parents/ carers in a supportive role.
- Treatment for school refusal: CBT, mindfulness, behavioural activation, boundary setting, exposure, cognitive restructuring and the role of medication.
- Additional needs students: ASD and high-achievers will be explored in brief.
Translating research and jargon into understanding and practical strategies this workshop is suitable for all principals and educators (P-12), health professionals, GPs, paediatricians, family support workers, residential carers, MH day-program and community staff, youth justice, child protection and parents/ carers. This workshop answers the questions asked by teachers, counsellors and parents alike.
Presented by: For over 30 years Joanne Garfi has treated and consulted to teachers, counsellors and parents in a manner that is easy to comprehend, devoid of the jargon and theories, and gets results in overcoming School Refusal. As a psychologist who has worked extensively across primary and secondary schools Joanne has provided treatment, support and specialised training to whole school communities for many years. She has a special interest in the treatment of Anxiety and Panic Disorder and is well known for her work with school refusal, childhood anxiety, behavioural disorders and developmental issues. She also runs a busy private practice and is the author of Overcoming School Refusal: A practical guide for teachers, counsellors, caseworkers and parents.
Audience: for Education and Mental Health Professionals at All Levels & Any Professional that Applies Behavioural & Developmental Science to their Practice.
Education Professionals: All education professionals who work with children or youth including, but not limited to K–12 Classroom Teachers, School Counsellors, Learning Assistance/Resource Teachers, School Administrators, School Paraprofessionals including Special Education Assistants, Classroom Assistants and Early Childhood Workers and all other professionals who support behavioural challenges and complex learning needs.
Mental Health Professionals: All mental health professionals including, but not limited to Counsellors, Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Youth Workers, Mental Health Workers, Family Therapists, General Practitioners, and all other mental health professionals looking to enhance their therapeutic skills.
Parents/carers: Parents and caregivers are welcome to attend. We ask that questions of a personal nature be asked to the trainer during break times.
* The National Trend of School Refusal and Related Matters, Education and Employment References Committee. The Senate