Chronic illness and school – information for families

  • Beginning school, transitioning to primary or secondary school, or coping with interrupted schooling can be challenging for any child and their family. This can be made more difficult when your child has a chronic (long-term) health condition.

    If your child is away from school for a long time because they have been in hospital, at home recovering or going to medical appointments, they may find it difficult to:

    • complete learning activities or sit exams
    • maintain academic performance
    • take part in school activities such as sports or excursions
    • maintain school friendships
    • stay confident, positive and motivated.

    How schools can support students with chronic illnesses

    To achieve the best possible educational outcomes, a child with a chronic health condition needs ongoing and coordinated support from their family, medical carers and school.

    This can be achieved if you work closely with your child's school. It is important to meet with the school principal (or other appropriate staff member) to work out the expectations and responsibilities of everyone involved.

    Student health support plan

    Your school should work with you to develop a health support plan for your child. This plan should outline how your child's condition will affect their ability to attend school. It should also indicate which school staff will be responsible for carrying out certain tasks and what to do in case of emergency.

    The health support plan should be made available to relevant staff (including casual replacement teachers and other staff who have occasional care of your child). The plan should be reviewed annually or updated whenever there is any significant change to your child's condition or treatment.

    Making modifications and reasonable adjustments

    Discuss with the school if your child's health condition means they will need:

    • changes to school buildings etc. so that they can have full access to school facilities and activities
    • changes to the uniform, curriculum, work requirements, timetable or subject choices
    • a modified academic program
    • an application for special provision for VCE or VCAL (or equivalent in other states or territories).

    Communication

    Decide what and how much information your child would like to share about their condition with school staff, classmates and the wider school community.

    Your child needs adequate care and support at school, but it is also important to respect your child's right to confidentiality and privacy.

    Decide who will be responsible for sharing information with who, in what way, and when.

    It's important to regularly communicate with the school about how your child is coping at home and at school, including how they are going academically, socially, physically and emotionally. It's a good idea for parents to establish a key contact person at the school. Work with the school to organise:

    • the best method of contact between home, school and hospital (e.g. phone calls, email, a communication book)
    • how school work will be exchanged (e.g. via email or hard copy).

    Keeping in touch with friends

    It is important for your child's emotional wellbeing that they keep in contact with their friends. Losing touch with friends can make children anxious about returning to school. Organise catch-ups with friends and continue involvement with extracurricular groups and clubs. Even if your child can't go back to school full time, arrange for them to attend for half days, including at lunch time and recess so they can spend time with friends.

    When they are in hospital or at home sick, it can be helpful for your child to keep in touch with school and friends via the internet.

    Accessing additional support

    There are many support services available to help schools effectively support students with a chronic health condition. The school principal is the best person to ask about accessing these services. Some of the services available in Victoria are listed below.

    Student support services

    Student support services includes a wide range of professionals, including psychologists, speech pathologists and social workers. These services will work with the school to improve the education and health and wellbeing outcomes for your child.

    Visiting teacher service

    In Victoria, the Department of Education and Training and the Catholic Education Office provide a visiting teacher service. If your child attends an independent school, please contact your child's school principal to discuss additional support.

    Visiting teachers may work with visually, hearing and physically impaired students, as well as those with a chronic health condition. They provide extra educational help, advice and support to students, their parents, schools and school communities.

    Student welfare coordinators/primary welfare officers/pastoral care coordinators

    All school systems have dedicated staff members who help schools to support the wellbeing of students. These staff members oversee the development of programs to meet the individual needs of students who may find ongoing engagement with education challenging.

    Program for Students with Disabilities

    The Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) supports the education of students with disabilities and high needs in Victorian government schools by providing schools with extra resources to organise a student support group for the child.

    Children may be eligible for the program if they have been diagnosed with one of the following:

    • physical disability (or significant health impairment)
    • visual impairment
    • severe behaviour disorder
    • hearing impairment
    • intellectual disability
    • autism spectrum disorder
    • severe language disorder with critical educational needs.

    There is a similar program within the Catholic and independent school systems called the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Program.

    Professional development opportunities

    Discuss with your child's school whether they are able to provide school staff with professional development opportunities or information regarding your child's health condition.

    Key points to remember

    • For the best possible educational outcomes, your child will need ongoing and coordinated support from their family, medical carers and school.
    • Relevant information about the student's condition should be shared with appropriate school staff.
    • Maintain regular communication with the school regarding how your child is coping at school and at home.
    • Additional support may be available – talk to your school principal.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Whose responsibility is it to organise and apply for student support services and other support at school?

    In most cases, it is the school's responsibility to apply for student support services and programs for students with disabilities, and to arrange for visiting teachers and so on. Talk to your principal about what services your child might benefit from and they can take it from there.

    If my child needs to stay in hospital for long periods, what support is available in hospital for their schooling?  

    At the Royal Children's Hospital we have an Education Institute, which is here to provide a rich learning experience for patients so that their journey as learners continues in hospital. We even have an RCH teacher who can work with your child. For more information visit Education Institute. If your child is being treated elsewhere, ask your child's nurses or doctors what resources may be available during your child's stay.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed July 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.