MissingSchool was thrilled to participate in the “Linking Up for Kids” conference held in Sydney on 14-15 April 2014 by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth partnering with Children’s Healthcare Australasia. The conference brought together 270 representatives from the health, hospital and education sectors to consider how we can improve partnerships between the sectors in order to keep kids well, and to support them better when they are not.
MissingSchool had been invited to present a kids’ perspective. After some thought we decided to ask hospitals and educators around the country to help us to prepare a video which would let real kids speak about the issues they face today in navigating between the health and education systems. Almost 100 brave children and young people responded with pull-no-punches honesty to tell us how they felt about missing school because of illness, and what they thought of when they missed school. We are immensely grateful to them for entrusting us with their thoughts and feelings, and also to the organisations which collaborated to bring it all together. The video Listen Here! played to critical acclaim at the opening of the conference, and we hope to be able to make it available shortly on our website. Later, Cathy Nell participated in a panel discussion on the lived experience of serious illness and its impact on education. Gina Meyers delivered a presentation on the barriers to maintaining connection to school when a kid is absent because of serious illness. At the end of the conference, Megan Gilmour participated in a panel debate on the Healthy Schools framework, and offered a series of thought-provoking questions on our attitudes to kids, health, education and the nature of support. Everybody we spoke to was passionate about the need for all kids, including those with serious illness, to have access to quality education. Speakers in the final debate noted that health levels are clearly linked to education levels in society, and that the best thing the medical profession could do for the health of our young people would be to keep them in school. We loved Norman Swann’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that kids’ school leaving results be made a performance indicator for doctors. We thank ARACY and CHA for their recognition of the importance of education in the lives of kids with serious illness, and for the opportunity to participate in a lively and exciting conference.