school refusers

a resource for parents 

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School Refusal
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1yr of school refusal

Hi, I was so pleased to find this forum as I felt so alone. Knowing there are other children and parents is such a relief as you can get to feel like you are going mad.

My youngest son stopped attending school a year ago at 13yrs, he disclosed he was depressed and we were fortunate to get him seen early by CAMHs where he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and prescribed medication. The doctor was good enough to do a few home visits but then left. This meant my son didnt get seen for some time and by the time a new doctor arrived - after our badgering- he had withdrawn completely and refused to see anyone or talk other than through his bedroom door. We are still awaiting CBT a year later though.

School initially visited and discussed fining us - I wasnt exactly sure what that would achieve but told them to go for it if they thought it would be helpful!! Never happened. They refused to send me work for him saying it would encourage him not to attend. I managed to get some eventually but it was all GCSE papers which just made him feel terrible. Then they sent home some work that he had already done so his response " whats the point?" was valid.

I managed to get him in for 2 days but a teacher told him he would have to do an exam the next day and he panicked and didnt go back. At this point he would not leave the house at all, no doc to be seen and he regressed. New dr arrived and we tried some new strategies. Managed to get him up and dressed for school and then later walking to the school gates. When it came to going in he just baulked - admits he wants to go to school but just cant and he is unable to expalin why.

Problem now is that he has been seen by so many different people and is tired of talking as he says no-one listens or helps him. All communication is via his door. After last summer i contacted social services for help and they have been helpful up to a point.

There is a specialist centre for children with mental health / emotional difficulties and he has attended for assessments when accompanied. He refuses to go back for lessons now as it is too small and he feels under the microscope. By way of my losing my temper during a meeting the other week and telling them that they all had a duty to continue to persevere and help him, the youth worker (!!) managed to get him access to an online service for Maths and English - why this hadnt been suggested before I have no idea. Its almost as if professionals hide their gifts away. School must have been aware of this service. But we have it now and it is a start.

I have asked CAMHS what we can do and the answer is nothing as he wont talk to them, this is so frustrating as my son really needs someone to talk with him and to be persistent. They consider him to be on the ASD spectrum but he has refused to be assessed so only what they have observed and a developmental assessment for this "diagnosis".

Sleep pattern is poor but he has always been a late to sleep child. We limit access to wifi at night but let him have it in the day as when we were advised to stop it he became very depressed. We have tried all the parenting suggestions from CAMHs etc.

I now have a plan to meet with school, SENCO, to ask what they are going to do - (I think they have failed us), so any suggestions of what to ask would be great.

Also going to meet with CAMHs about what their plan is to be and I am not taking nothing for an answer - again any suggestions would be great.

Having read a lot of this forum I have got some ideas and will definitely be revisiting it often, thank you all for being so open and honest,

Re: 1yr of school refusal

Sadly, Helen, you are not alone. It just seems so hard for us to make contact with others, and the schools do not like to admit that their system of education does not fit every child's needs.

So much of what you write, I recognise from my daughter.

One day, coming out of the school after yet another meeting, I met the deputy head 'on smoking patrol'. He revealed that his brother had been a 'school refuser'. I felt enormous relief that we were not alone with this problem. That would have been about 12 years ago. My daughter is now 25 and has a degree, but is going through (a very expensive) course of CBT to help with her continuing anxiety.

We also were offered a place in a specialist unit for children with mental health / emotional difficulties, and it did work up to a point, but there always seemed to be a reason why she would not attend. But it was one small step to restarting her education.

You seem quite clear about the various steps that you have taken along the journey, but I still recommend that you keep a diary to record all your actions, and promises made by those who are supposed to help us, so that should you be taken to court you do have the evidence.

You could also ask your son to keep a diary of his feelings, though I have to warn you that my daughter's diary, mostly pictorial, gave us a deep shock. It was very dark.

Depending on where you live, Red Balloon may be able to help with education.

We can chat more, but I still find this very stressful...

Yours aye,


Re: 1yr of school refusal

Hi Helen

I am so glad you found the forum, but I am so sorry to hear how hard things are right now. I know just how you feel. Your story brought back all my memories of dealing with school and how hard it is to make them understand. Like you, I was told they wouldn't supply work as that would make him not want to attend at all....but all it did was make him get way behind...which made him not want to attend. The schools can't seem to see this as they are treating it as a behaviour issue and not a mental health issue.

As far as what to ask, it sounds like your thinking is along the right track to ask them what they will do for you.
Don't let them turn it back round onto you and tell you what you have to do...make sure they come up with some reasonable strategies of their own that fit with mental health/ill child. Ask them how they would move forward with a child who could not attend school due to physical illness and remind them that mental health is no different.
CAMHS is a problem if your son won't attend. We had problems with my son refusing to attend help...he's still doing that unfortunately!!
What our latest psychologist has suggested though, and this is an option I think CAHMS need to look at in your case, is if my son refuses to attend the next appointment, I am to inform the psychologist, and he will ring home and I put the phone on speaker phone next to my son...and see what happens. Left with just a device speaking to them...might eventually allow for a response or two. I don't know if anyone from CAHMS or any other support would be willing to give it a try for you?

Keep up your son's self esteem via whatever means you can that does not involve the mention of school.
Is your son now engaging with the maths and English on-line or is he finding it hard to be motivated?
If he is giving this a go, then this is a really great sign, If not...then it is fairly typical. If depressed, it is hard to find the motivation to do much at all, but especially something that their actions points to failure. Another way to help with this a bit down the track is to also employ a maths tutor or English or both and when they come, your son works on the on-line work with them? It might just take away the intensity of one on one and make it more like a third person in the room. Just an idea,

Is there something he is good at that he could teach or help someone else? Are there elderly people somewhere who want to know how to use an iPad, for example?
Does he have any friends? Does he connect with them on-line?

Sorry I haven't really come up with any great suggestions for questions to ask when you have your meetings. Try those couple of ideas but otherwise, go with your gut feeling and keep standing up to them like it seems you have been.
Have you got some support for yourself? It can be so incredibly draining, as you know, Do some nice things just for you.
All the best for the forthcoming meetings.
I think the anxiety and what is causing it has to be dealt with first...and then with confidence, school might start to happen. I think the professionals and the schools are way too focused on school attendance. This is a symptom of an underlying anxiety. Depession comes from the whole situation of feeling they have failed themselves and others.
Let us know how you go.
Linda xx

Re: 1yr of school refusal

Thanks for replying. He has done some of the online learning but not much. We have had a chat about virtual school as well but I want to see what his school will offer now. I have just been reading about EDMA and hypnotherapy and plan to discuss this with camhs.I do keep a file and log everything which has proven useful. It is all so time consuming and draining though. This professionals have all the knowledge and resources yet we have to fight for them. I am going to see if I can negotiate with my son some attendance next week when term starts. Thanks for this great site and all the support and ideas.

Re: 1yr of school refusal

Hi Helen,
What is EDMA?

Re: 1yr of school refusal

Hi, it's a therapy involving eye movements. My camhs do use it but we can't access it as they reserve it for PTSD patients only.