Back to school – do we have a safe and fair playground for kids with type 1 diabetes?

Back to school – do we have a safe and fair playground for kids with type 1 diabetes?

A lack of a clear, consistent national approach to supporting children with diabetes at school means the parents of more than 11,300 Australian students with diabetes are enduring an anxious start to the school year.

If not treated appropriately type 1 diabetes can pose immediate life-threatening health risks and must be considered with the same seriousness as acute asthma attacks and anaphylaxis.

Diabetes Australia CEO A/Professor Greg Johnson said the organisation was calling for a nationally consistent program and a more systematic approach to supporting children with diabetes at school and in child care.

“Diabetes Australia is concerned that many schools do not properly plan and prepare to provide a safe and supportive environment for children with type 1 diabetes. This means children may miss out on normal activities and learning opportunities. They may also experience stigma, distress and discrimination,” A/Professor Johnson said.

“There are other serious health concerns around missing necessary insulin doses and being at a greater risk from dangerous low blood glucose levels or ‘hypos’.”

“Children with diabetes have the fundamental right to a normal school experience, including full participation in all educational, extracurricular and sporting activities and it is important schools provide the support needed to ensure this happens.”

“Many parents and families are very worried about the school environment and how their children can have a normal school experience without the stigma and issues often associated with insulin injections, checking blood glucose levels and managing possible hypos.”

“It’s 95 years since the first child received an insulin injection in 1922 and in all that time we haven’t seen any real improvement. Surely after 95 years we should expect that insulin injections, blood glucose monitoring and appropriate diabetes management can happen at any school?”

A/Professor Johnson said the current approach was often ad hoc and relied on voluntary help from individuals within the school system.

“For too long we have relied on goodwill, good luck and volunteers putting their hand up to try and provide a safe and supportive school environment,” he said.

“It is time for a systemic approach in which every Principal and school Board accepts the challenge and responsibility to plan and prepare for students with type 1 diabetes.”

“Diabetes Australia is writing to all Members of Parliament and Ministers at the national and state and territory level, calling on them to support a much stronger, nationally consistent approach.”

“Some states and territories have specific policies regarding diabetes management in schools and some do not. Some states and territories mandate the need for schools to have individual diabetes management plans in place for children with diabetes, some do not. Some states and territories have diabetes information and training programs for teachers and schools, some do not.”

“We need a national, consistent approach to address the variability that exists across each state and territory and within the public, private and religious school systems.”

Melbourne mother, Shannon Macpherson from Skye, has three children with type 1 diabetes at school: ten year old Bella and thirteen-year-old twins Ayden and Connor.

“We have always been concerned that there is no consistent training available for school teachers and staff to support our kids when they are at school. We want our kids to have the chance to take part in all school activities, but they do need some additional care for that to happen safely,” Ms Macpherson said.

“Bella is still at primary school, so the teachers and staff have a higher level of involvement supporting her. Connor and Ayden are a bit older so they are able to better self-manage, however their teachers need to understand that diabetes can and will impact on them and help out when necessary.”

Diabetes Australia said parents often reported a lack of understanding from teachers and schools regarding appropriate day-to-day diabetes management in schools. Issues can include:

• a lack of easy access by their child to the diabetes care equipment they need through the day, • a lack of supervision of insulin injections or insulin pump button pushing, • a lack of timely access to drinking water or toilet privileges when a child has high blood glucose levels, • a lack of appropriate blood glucose management and supervision around sporting events leading to hypoglycaemia, and • a lack of consideration of diabetes around illness, excursions, camps and examinations.

Additionally, teachers are often concerned about their own lack of knowledge which means they may not be able to confidently support a child with diabetes.