It’s really helpful to set up a meeting with your child’s school before they start, so that any questions can be asked and you can outline the specifics of your child’s condition and needs well enough in advance for the school to take any action they need to.
We found it useful to write down a list of questions/topics to cover in advance so that we didn’t forget to cover anything during the meeting.
Below is WelshAllergyMummy’s list of the types of things you might want to cover when you meet with your child’s school.
Information you should offer
- If your child is not with you, take a photo of him/her along and place it on the table during the meeting.
This may seem a bit much, but it really helps bring your son/daughter to life rather than being just a name and a set of conditions/needs that is being discussed.
- Tell staff about your child: his/her name, give a brief health history, so that they understand the background leading up to the current situation.
He/she is one of many new children coming to the school, so you need to allow staff the opportunity and time to learn about him/her as an individual.
- Outline list of your child’s allergies, along with any other conditions he/she may have (e.g. eczema, asthma).
While you’ve had up to 4 tough years to absorb this information inside/out, its all new to your son/daughter’s teachers, so it’s good to run through it. Of course, school staff have dealt with many children with specific health/dietary needs before, so if they seem blasé, it’s more likely that they are confident and unphased by what you are telling them.
- Outline list of your child’s medication/treatment needs, specifying which of these might need to be administered during the school day.
This will help them to form a picture of how much adjustment/additional input your child might need through the course of the school day.
- Explain what happens when your child has a reaction: What symptoms does he/she have? What triggers the reaction? How are symptoms treated?
This one can be hard because every reaction can be different, so we gave Osian’s schools two examples. The first was of the most severe anaphylactic reaction Osh had experienced. We explained how and where it occurred and what triggered it, how the symptoms then presented and how the treatment happened. The second example was a general explanation of Osh’s milder reactions, ones that we can’t pinpoint to anything in particular, but that cause his skin to become red/blotchy/itchy, his eczema to flare up, his eyes to water and nose to run.
- Tell them about your child’s current/most recent childcare setting (if not with you in the day).
The school may like to make contact with nursery/day care settings to find out more about how they have managed your child’s allergies. Osh’s class teacher actually visited his nursery to get a better feel for how to approach things and told us she found it very useful.
Questions to ask of school
- Has the school ever dealt with a child with the same allergies as your child before?
If it has, this can really help to put your mind at ease as staff will already be risk assessing and planning activities with allergies in mind. One of the schools we spoke to told us that whilst they always have children with allergies in school, Osh would have been their most complex due to the number and type of his allergies. Although this made our stomachs sink a little, it was also strangely reassuring – staff were straight with us about their experience, so we could start to plan how we could help them learn to manage Osh’s allergies should we choose to apply there.
- Can you have a copy of the school’s healthcare needs policy?
This mightn’t be as straightforward as it sounds! We managed to find a draft copy of Osh’s school’s policy on the school website and this is what we are currently referring to.
- What is the school’s policy with regard to AAI training?
This will give you a feel for how many staff on the school premises will be able to administer your child’s epi-pen.
- Where will your child’s medicine be kept during the school day?
This needs to be accessible and not locked away so that it can be accessed by trained staff in an emergency.
- Where will your child’s snack/lunch box be kept during the day?
If you are concerned about cross contamination, you could ask if it can be stored separately.
- How will school lunches work? Is there a separate menu? How is food prepared?
We opted to send packed lunches for our own peace of mind, but at some point we will re-explore the possibility of school meals for Osh. If the school seems unsure about catering arrangements, ask to speak to the school cook or the catering team via your council’s education department. Not sure how contact your education department? Try this link.
- At mealtimes and snack times, who monitors the children? Will it be possible for a member of staff to be positioned near to your child to keep an extra eye out for cross-contamination risks?
Meal and snack times are inevitably more risky for a food allergic child, so its important to understand what precautions will be in place to mitigate the risks to your child during such times.
- What is allowed/not allowed to be sent as a snack?
Our school insists on ‘healthy snacks’ which is great, however in view of Osh’s limited diet, they reassured us that if one day he is sent in with a more sugary/salty than usual snack, it won’t be a problem.
- If children receive milk to drink in school, how is this organised? Can the school/you provide an alternative drink for your child (if allergic to milk)?
Osh’s classmates will receive milk every morning, so particular care will need to be given to avoiding exposure by Osh, since he is anaphylactic to milk. The school were happy to allow us to take in a pre-mixed beaker of his elemental formula (hypoallergenic milk alternative) if he decides he would like to drink milk at the same time too. Otherwise he can be offered juice or water.
- Will your child have access to water throughout the day or is it restricted to meal times? Is there a water fountain that could pose a cross-contamination risk?
We’ve always taught Osh to drink water regularly through the day to help keep his skin hydrated, which is important for management of his eczema, so this was an important one for us.
In Osh’s case, his teacher suggested his water can be kept by the ‘teacher’s sink’ so that the risk of others drinking from it is reduced.
- Are children encouraged to wash hands before and after food breaks?
If not, ask if this can be introduced so as to reduce the risk of your child being exposed to their allergens.
- If your child uses a prescribed soap substitute, how can he/she access this to wash hands without it being available to all children to use/play with?
As with the water example above, Osh’s teacher suggested this could be kept by the teacher’s sink so that Osh would be able to access it when he needed to, without it being available to all.
- Can the school help you by giving out a letter to all parents of your child’s classmates in week 1 of term?
Nathalie at The Intolerant Gourmand has come up with a great example of a letter that you can adapt as you want to. We have done this in readiness for Osh’s first week in school and school have been more than happy to agree to distribute it for us if we provide agreed number of copies.
- How can you work with the school to ensure that materials used in the classroom are safe for your child?
Offer to help with checking of materials as this will not only help to reassure you of their safety/unsuitability, but will encourage a collaborative relationship between you and your child’s teacher. For example, in our case, we have offered to write to manufacturers to check ingredients (e.g. for paints due to egg allergy) or to help devise a new recipes ( eg. for play-dough due to wheat allergy). Our school also suggested we provide a ‘craft box’ for Osian with safe materials in, so that they could dip in and out of that if a back-up was needed.
- What is the procedure for ensuring your child applies emollient cream as required?
You may need to complete an intimate care form to authorise staff to assist with the physical application of creams.
- Is there anything the school would like you to do to help them manage the allergies?
This might include having a medical alert bracelet/silicon wrist band made for your child to wear discreetly as an aide memoir for staff. Or working with the class teacher regularly to read through lesson plans and identify safe alternative materials for your child to use.
You will, of course, have additional questions of your own that you want to ask, but the above list may get you started and help you to form a picture of how well the school ‘gets it’!