What happens now…
A while back I wrote a piece about school refusal and gave some ideas that were hopefully helpful for other people experiencing a similar situation.
Our story has moved on and as of this June 2015, my son Ed who's now 16, officially left school. Not that he had actually been in attendance mind you!
I know some families have successfully managed to reintegrate their son or daughter back into school and I take my hat of to those who have been successful. Such a difficult time, so very well done to you all, especially to your young person. We were not so fortunate.
It may have been too little too late!
It may have been a case of too little too late, maybe Ed’s trust of the whole system was so damaged that it was the only way he coped by refusing to put himself back in an environment where he felt so… well, to be honest, I don’t know how he felt as he has never felt able (or wanted) to share this with us.
Recently, I was looking through one of my many counselling books about adolescents. In it was a half page, yes, an entire a half page, on school refusal and I was surprised to read that school refusal came under a topic of ‘environmental stressors’ and that while there can be many different reasons for a child who refuses to attend school, often the problem comes down to family relationships. 1
It suggests that families are either too involved with one another, causing the young person to not want to leave the safety of the family; that they are not involved enough and do not notice when a problem is arising or that the family unit is isolated and tends to shut the outside world off from themselves.
I gave these suggestions some thought, a lot of thought actually as I, like many parents, will willingly adopt the back-breaking role of bearing total responsibility for everything that has ever gone wrong in my son’s life and forever feel an element of, dare I say it, guilt! But I just couldn’t see where these suggestions were coming from.
And more worryingly, if this is the stance adopted by some of the many professionals that we have dealt with, then it's no wonder it has been so difficult to obtain any type of support.
We're Flawed and that's OK!
Our family has its flaws: we're human! However we are neither over-involved, dysfunctional nor isolated (although we may have been a little bit of each at random times through our journey together) so I find these suggestions bordering on the ridiculous or maybe they hadn’t taken into account families of children with SEN.
Our son’s experience of school before the refusal began was awful, I found myself going through some of the paperwork recently from primary school and I wonder really how Ed attended as much as he did, the way he was treated because many members of staff were inexperienced dealing with a child with ADHD and social and communication difficulties. It was appalling, heart-breaking and, in my opinion, was almost certainly the trigger for Ed’s later refusal.
The information on school refusal also states that ongoing refusal could lead to long-term dysfunction for the young person. Worrying stuff! Or it would be if it wasn't for the fact that now Ed has finished his compulsory education years, he is working part-time, has secured himself a place at college and is actively looking forward to beginning his course.
Adding insult to injury
Ed was out of school for approximately three and half years. For both of us (and my husband) this was many, many months of stress, distress and worry. Many tears were shed. We are hoping college will be a fresh start and a brighter future. But his school hadn't quite finished with heaping the misery on our family.
All around me I've been hearing of leavers’ proms, discos and celebratory meals for all the Year 11s who attended school. Not for Ed though. Because his attendance was so poor, he was not permitted to attend any of the functions put on by school. Although Ed was received an emailed invitation to attend a year 11 celebratory meal, when we replied in acceptance, we were firmly informed by the Head of the school that, after careful consideration, a decision had been made to revoke Ed's invite. To us, this was yet another indication that those who were there to support Ed believed his school refusal was his own fault; that it was wilful and deliberate and an active choice. It felt like one last kick in the teeth for our son and I was gutted for him.
Ed told his school he didn't care about being barred from attending but he told me an entirely different story. I know he would have loved to have been able to say a “formal” goodbye. Indeed, it would have been beneficial for him.
The importance of a good ending!
So, there has been no final ‘closure’ to Ed’s schooldays, 11 years of his life without an “official” ending, which is pretty upsetting really. I feel sad that we, as his parents, haven’t experienced an ending either, as I believe they are so important.
Endings in life happen all the time and the way they are handled can establish the pattern for how they are handled in future. I was concerned that not being able to officially ‘close the door’ on this unhappy chapter of his life might delay his learning what a good ending can look like. I know and understand that this will be learned later in life but it doesn't prevent me from feeling unhappy that his chance of a good memory was taken away in what seemed like an unnecessary punishment. In effect, it was the school saying, 'This is what happens to kids whom we fail to help. They don't get to go to the ball!'
During my training as a counselor, I learned that a good ending can make way for a much more effective beginning to the next phase. As the school were determined not to give this to Ed, it is up to me to ensure he gets the closure he needs.
I'm making plans to do just this – to help him mentally tie up loose ends, talk to him as much as he will allow and arrange a day out to somewhere of his choice. It will be a way to enable him to shed the skin of the “school refuser” that he no longer needs so he can emerge ready for a new experience of being a young adult. I hope it will help him understand that that was then, this is now – a new beginning, a chance to reinvent himself into the young man that I know he has the potential to be.
1 Kearney and silverman, (1995), cited in Geldard and Geldard, (2010).