The national trend of school refusal

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By Callum Ellison, Paralegal

School Refusal is on the rise in households across Australia. National school attendance levels dropped 4.5% to 86.5% between 2021 and 2022. In August 2023 the Senate’s Education and Employment references committee released its 161-page final report into school refusal in Australia.

The report noted the various definitions and behaviours associated with ‘school refusal’ but summarised it as a young person’s refusal to go to school based on ‘a severe negative emotional reaction’.  The behaviour associated with school refusal is not limited to simply a child refusing to attend school. It can include sleep disturbances, psychosomatic complaints such as headaches or nausea, emotional distress or meltdowns, and refusal to participate in a morning routine such as getting out of bed or getting dressed. The report noted that while the COVID-19 pandemic increased school refusal, the trend existed before, and the factors that can lead to the behaviour exist beyond those unique to the pandemic.

First and foremost, the behaviour has a significant impact on the health and well-being of the child. A child not attending school is further isolated from their peers, which increases the stress of attending. The impacts on social development can spill over to other aspects of childhood and adolescence and is associated with reluctance to take part in other activities like sport.  Beyond the stress on the child, the behaviour places great stress on the family more broadly, parents and on the parents’ relationships.

Family law proceedings can exacerbate the problem and its detrimental impacts. The child’s routine is often disrupted, and parenting coordination can be strained if each parent employs different methods for dealing with the behaviour. If one parent bears more of the caring responsibilities, they shoulder the increased burden of getting a child to school. If the behaviour is not addressed in an appropriate manner, it can be exhausting for both the child and the parent.

In the context of Family Law proceedings, it is important to ensure that parental responsibility is clear and agreed, and parents are on the same page for dealing with challenges of all kinds. This enables parents to deal with issues as they arise or engage appropriate professional help if necessary. More broadly, the stress of lengthy family law proceedings can place strain on co-parenting relationships. A clear plan for addressing your family law issues and a timely conclusion to your matter minimises the stress for the parties involved as well as on children and other relationships.

The Mills Oakley Family Law  Team have vast experience in dealing with parenting matters including parental responsibility, living arrangements for children and time they spend with each parent. If you need advice in dealing with school refusal or any other Family Law Matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The full report can be found here.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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