The school nursing service in Northamptonshire has established a new dedicated pathway to ensure home educated children do not fall through the gaps and have access to the support they need.
All electively home educated pupils are contacted by Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT’s) school nurses which aims to identify those most in need and ensure they’re offered appointments and the care they require.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant there has been a rise in the number of electively home educated pupils. Estimates from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services suggest the figures may have jumped by as much as a third nationally. Home education however can mean pupils miss out on the opportunity of regular contact with school nursing services.
But in Northamptonshire that is not the case because of a home education pathway that was introduced back in 2017. NHFT’s school nursing service is specifically commissioned to provide support to all pupils resident in the county, not just those in school.
Northampton 0-19 Public Health Matron at NHFT, Pippa Gilbert, said: “We believe that all children, young people and families should have direct access into the school nursing service to support early intervention, prevent health problems developing and tackle some of the inequalities which impact health.
“Home educated children and families can miss out on the service as it is largely delivered in partnership with schools. We have always been there for them, but in the past much depended on whether we were aware of them or if they came forward for our help.
“Under this arrangement we have an agreement in place with North and West Northamptonshire Council that every autumn they will send us a list of the home educated pupils. Our team then begin contacting families.”
All parents and carers– or a young person themselves if over 16 – receive a letter informing them of the school nursing service and with contact details, including the Chat Health text number which enables them to speak to a school nurses via a secure text messaging service.
Home educated children can get access to the full range of school nurse services from immunisations and health assessments to advice and information. Appointments can be booked at a local community clinic or nurses will visit the child’s home if necessary, ensuring everyone has access to the care they need. These services are provided by all the county’s 45 school nurses.
Before the pandemic there were regularly 800 to 900 pupils on the home educated register but that has now increased to over 1,500.
Sue Stevens, Public Health Matron, said: “There are a variety of reasons why parents choose to home educate. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been a big factor and increased the numbers. We do find some choose to home educate for a short period, but the important thing is that we now have a better understanding of who is home educated and we can make sure we provide them with access to the full range of services and support.”
As well as home education, the service works hard to provide help to those who refuse to go to school – known as anxiety-based school avoidance.
Sue continued: “Schools and other agencies let us know when a pupil is not attending school and we then follow that up often with a home visit. Sometimes these pupils have additional needs – autism, ADHD or dyslexia and we sometimes refer on to the local specialist services that offer assessment or advice and support in relation to special educational needs and disabilities.
“By working collaboratively with our local authority partners and schools we can ensure that parents, carers, children and young people can access vital services, have their needs understood and obtain support when needed.”
To find out more about services to support children, young people, carers and parents in Northamptonshire, including online and text messaging support visit www.nhft.nhs.uk/0-19