The recent news reports detailing the tragic deaths of teenagers due to allergic reactions have really increased anxiety levels for parents of children with allergies. This is especially relevant if they have recently started school, or have moved to a new school. Sending allergic child to school can add even more to anxiety. If the child’s allergies are severe, the risk of potentially life-threatening reactions due to contact with allergens could likely be higher.
With this in mind, members of the AlliApp team held an informal focus group with parents who have experienced these anxieties. Together, we came up with some points worth considering when working with schools regarding an allergic child’s safety and wellbeing. Thankfully anaphylaxis episodes at school are rare but there is always a risk of occurrence, and all school staff need to be ready to act efficiently and rapidly.
Communication Is The Key
- Arrange a meeting with your child’s class teacher, SENDCo, Headteacher, catering team, first aiders and any other relevant members of staff. Explain your concerns to them, as well as your child’s needs and allergies.
- Ask if the school already has experience with allergies, and what their policies are.
- Speak to, and educate anyone who has contact with your child or children.
- Ask about lunchtime arrangements, hand washing, cleaning, and food management.
- Don’t forget to ask about trips and food-related activities (cooking classes, pancake day, school fairs, cupcake sales and so on).
- Join the PTA if possible, or arrange to give an allergy awareness talk in order to enhance your contact and relationship with the school.
Individual Healthcare Plan (IHP)
- Make sure an IHP is put in place for your child; ask the Headteacher, SENDCo, chef and other relevant members of staff to sign the form, so they will feel accountable.
- Provide a letter from your doctor to the school explaining the essential needs of your child.
- Consider ideas like a photo of your child in the kitchen/canteen with information about their allergies (most UK schools already do this), a Medical Alert bracelet or badge for your child, and labels for your child’s lunch box if you are planning on giving them packed lunch.
Allergy Training And Awareness
- Ask if the staff know how to spot allergy and anaphylaxis symptoms and if they are EpiPen-trained.
- You or your child’s allergy nurse could go to the school to help arrange an IHP and ensure that relevant staff are EpiPen trained. Most UK schools now include Epi-pen training within their compulsory First Aid training sessions. Alternatively, you can ask your local SENDIASS for help.
EpiPen And Other Medication
- Ensure that your child’s medication is in a clearly labelled and unlocked allergy bag, and is always readily accessible to your child when at school. In most UK schools, younger children are not allowed to carry medication, especially needle-containing Epipens due to the dangers they can pose. However, there should always be a responsible staff member on hand to provide this support to your child if necessary.
- If your child has been prescribed an EpiPen (or another adrenaline auto-injector) DO NOT leave it at home! We’ve all heard stories about parents who underestimated the need to ensure that their nut-allergic children always had EpiPens readily available based on the fact, that their school was known to be ‘nut free’.
- Ask the school if they are able to purchase spare EpiPens in case of emergency. Check here for government guidance on the use of spare Ep-Pens at schools.
Other Children And Their Parents
- Ask if there are other children with allergies in the school and if their parents would like to meet and work with you to raise awareness (stronger together)
- Inform your child’s classmates and their parents about the situation,. either in the form of a letter from yourself or your child or arrange to give a brief talk, ensuring that you explain about cross contamination and how to avoid it.
Your Child’s Awareness
Educate your child, so they know:
- what makes them ill, what they should not eat or touch
- all their medicines, what each one does and when to take it
- what their EpiPen is for and how to use it
If you feel that the school does not take you seriously enough, keep pushing them. Do not wait for them to contact you – contact them yourself.