Hello and welcome to my blog about my PhD research into Family Experiences of School Anxiety and Refusal.
I enrolled at De Montfort University in Leicester in 2012 as a mature student and I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Education Studies (First Class) in 2015, and an MA in Photographic History (Merit) in 2016.
Parents of school refusing children are often in a particularly complex and emotive situation caused by conflicts between personal, educational and legal needs and requirements.
Many school refusing children and their parents care deeply about their education. However, when they struggle to overcome their difficulties, instead of being offered help and support they encounter hostile and critical responses, leaving them feeling isolated and frustrated.
I experienced this situation myself as a parent when my eldest son began to school refuse in 2008. This experience, combined with the contact I have had online with so many other families who are struggling within the system, inspired me to enrol on an Education Studies degree in 2012. I was determined to find a way to help and to highlight this mostly hidden and ignored problem.
I wrote my dissertation, Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Parents Experiences of School Refusal, Within the Education System, with the input of some lovely parents within the School Refusal Facebook group who shared their experiences and opinions with me. I am proud to say my dissertation was assessed as ‘outstanding’, ‘hugely impressive’, ‘original research’, ‘well-conducted’ and ‘an important contribution to scholarship’. My aim is to continue this research which is now possible as De Montfort University have awarded me funding to begin my PhD study, School Refusal: Investigating an International Model of Interventions to Support Children and Families.
My undergraduate research investigated the experiences of parents of school refusing children within the education system. Potential topics for further research were identified, including the influence of Special Educational Needs that are undiagnosed or inadequately supported; and the significance of online peer support for parents. This research offered a view of school refusal from the family perspective, in comparison to earlier studies which have tended to reflect their medical and educational research basis and focus on within-child and family factors as sources of the problem.
My PhD study will aim to address the need for further research into school refusal, and build upon other recent research studies that have reflected increasing interest in the viewpoints and experiences of children and families.
This research study will focus on the experiences of parents in school refusal situations in recognition that parents support their child in coping with anxiety on a day-to-day basis and they have a key role in influencing any successful outcomes. Parents also need support and guidance in their attempts to maintain their child’s education – to negotiate with school and local authority staff; attend health service appointments, and search for understanding, information and solutions.
My research will seek to investigate strategies and solutions to address anxiety-based school refusal. Focusing on UK and international family experiences, the mixed methods study will propose alternative perspectives to those offered through previous educational and medical research. A dual focus will inform the development of a new model of support for children and families, which aims to increase positive outcomes in terms of educational achievement, psychological well-being and family stability.
Firstly, input from families with lived-experience, supplemented with input from school and mental health service professionals, will offer insight into current causes of school refusal and barriers to accessing support.
Secondly, the research project will examine global examples of relevant provision and interventions with the aim of offering practical support for families, and providing school refusers with an education suitable to their needs and abilities.
Possible Research Questions
- What can family-based case studies contribute towards a fuller understanding of the experiences of children who become school refusers?
- How does the relationship between families, schools, and the State influence outcomes for school refusing children?
- What methods of support would be valued by school refusers and their families to improve outcomes in terms of educational achievement and improved psychological well-being?
This research is timely because levels of mental health difficulties in school children have been rising, yet access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is worsening. The Children’s Commissioner for England published the Lightning Review: Access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in May 2016, which found ‘large numbers of children and young people – some with apparently serious conditions – are being turned away from CAMHS upon referral and/or are having to wait long periods of time for treatment’. Families are therefore struggling to access assessment, treatment, or support and this creates high levels of stress and distress (family breakdown, financial difficulties, depression).