FROM LIVING-ROOM TO LOBBYING — BEGINNING TO END MISSING SCHOOL

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In February 2012, three Canberra mothers met in a suburban living-room to celebrate their children’s recovery from long and frightening critical illness.

They were also keen to discuss their concerns about the impact of those illnesses on their children’s friendships and schooling. Each child’s illness had been different but they shared a common experience of deep anxiety, loneliness, and isolation after more than 12 months’ of school absence. Those who had returned to school found it very difficult to adjust and to form friendships, and their learning suffered.

Cathy Nell, Gina Meyers and Megan Gilmour realised that there was no framework in place to support their children’s need to maintain contact with their schools and classmates and to keep up their education. As they spoke to more parents, educators and health professionals, it became clear that these were problems shared by many sick children and their families.

From that meeting, MissingSchool was born, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the educational issues facing children who miss school because of critical or chronic illness, and to exploring ways of supporting the children, their families, their teachers, and their learning through very difficult times.

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In 2015, MissingSchool commissioned, co-authored and launched Australian-first research on the issue at Parliament House. That research discovered a minimum of 60,000 students in Australia who miss school often or for long periods because of serious illness. It got the attention of a nation (162 media articles), a Prime Minister’s letter of support, support from the National Children’s Commissioner, and was sent to over 80 politicians across Australia. Meetings with the Prime Minister’s office and the offices of the Ministers for Education and Health, secured follow on research and put the issue on a national agenda. It started a national conversation that will continue until the educational needs of sick kids are fully met.

Our imagined future is that today’s “radical notion” of continuous school connection for seriously sick kids is something that will someday be taken for granted. A time when all sick kids will receive full support from their schools as a matter of course and MissingSchool is a thing of the past.

Our measure of success is to embed the change in our education systems and close our doors.