First of all; breathe. We know that it may feel like you are in this alone and no other parent is having this challenge but that is FAR from the truth. Many parents struggle with this very challenge. We get calls from parents constantly saying they are concerned about their child and also that they are fed up having the same argument every single morning with them. Many of them are unsure of the truancy process and very worried about how their child refusing school could impact the entire family.
This is a very difficult situation to be in and we wanted to make sure that you are equipped with information about your rights when it comes to truancy and some clear next steps that you can take to ensure that your child gets the support they need right now.
1. Prioritize their mental health
It is hard for any parent to hear but if your child doesn't want to get out of bed, and or go to school - it's likely there is a deeper issue. They could be struggling with depression or are feeling anxious about school. Even if that cost is making you mad and causing a daily fight. If you are resonating with this article it is time to get your child some help.
We know right now that is easier said than done. If you have tried to get any mental health related services recently you have probably come across some pretty lengthy waitlists. We hate that waitlists are causing so many challenges but it is the reality for many families right now.
However, there is another route you could take to try and get your child help. Consider making an appointment with your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor. When you are there, bring up the challenges that your child is having with their mental health. Depending on your doctor they may be able to help you. They can get your child started on appropriate medications and or give you some ideas on next steps to get them the help they need.
While you are seeking help; bring up the topic of mental health in your household. If you never have before casually mention something has made you anxious either now or in the past. Show your child that this is a topic you are 100% open to discussing and you hope that they will come to you if they are experiences challenges.
Don't shy away from the topic, continue to bring it up and check in on your child. Ask them how they are doing, what they are feeling anxious about, why they don’t want to go to school, and listen carefully to their answers. Communication is key in helping your child know that this isn't you vs. them. You are on their side and want to help.
2. Know your rights
No parent wants to deal with truancy. You are already overwhelmed enough and this is the last thing you need. However, if your school is discussing truancy with you about your child’s school attendance it is imperative that you know you and your child’s rights. You will be a much better advocate if you can identify what is supposed to happen and what is not.
For instance, did you know that before your child’s school can send you to the magistrate for truancy issues they MUST schedule a Student Attendance Improvement Conference (SAIC) with you? Or that students whose disability impacts attendance can have it marked in their IEP or 504 plan and an Alternate Attendance Plan can be created? Information on these topics and much more can be found in this excellent resource that our friends at the PEAL Center created. Check it out to get a better understanding of your rights as you navigate this tricky situation.
Attorney Margie Wakelin from the Education Law Center helped to break down truancy and the specifics around it like the difference between being truant and being habitually truant. Click here to watch our discussion with her.
3. Model good behavior and ask for help if you need it
You want your child to ask for help and you too should ask for help if you need it. Asking for help is an act of courage and the sooner you address and get your child the help they need the better off they will be in the long run.
First, you can reach out to your child’s school’s Student Assistance Program (SAP). Every school is slightly different so it is possible that it is named something different. This is a program that not every parent knows about, but the ones who do often do not know that they can refer their own child to SAP. To get a better idea of what SAP is, and how it can help your child check out this blog where we spoke with both SAP professionals and parents who have children who have worked with SAP.