School Year Prep for Ongoing Health Conditions
Summer is still in full swing, but that back-to-school time is just around the corner. When we send our children off to another year of learning, we hope that everything goes smoothly and safely, and that they get the support they need and the attention they deserve. Specifically for parents of kids with ongoing or complex medical conditions, this concern can be even more pressing. Today, let’s talk about things you can do before school starts to make sure your little one is safe, healthy, and prepared for the year ahead.
Get to Know the System
Whether your child is returning to a familiar school or starting a new one, it’s always a good idea to revisit or acquaint yourself with this institution’s particular processes for supporting students with ongoing health conditions. Reach out to the school and set up a meeting with the health team, your child’s case worker, and the principal before the start of term. Here are some questions to ask:
- What are the school protocols and rules on medicine? Will my child get help with administering it, if necessary? Do prescription medications need to be kept in a specific location, like the nurse’s office?
- Who will be the point person my child can go to directly if there is a concern about their wellness during the day? Will this person know my child and their condition personally?
- What is the school’s action plan for medical emergencies? Who gets called, who gets notified, etc.?
- Are the school health team members qualified to support my child’s unique condition?
Don’t be shy! This is all a part of advocating for your child, and no question is unnecessary or inappropriate here. Share the details of your kiddo’s condition with everyone at the meeting. Distribute copies of action plans and medication information. Get to know the school nurse – they can be awesome partners in supporting your child. (Check out the CDC’s guidelines for school nurse roles in managing chronic illness, here!)
Make sure to have a detailed, written plan of action in case of emergency specific to your child’s condition. Here are some considerations for common chronic conditions:
- glucose monitoring procedure throughout the day
- what to do if glucose levels are off
- Diabetes Medical Management Plan and/or Individualized Health Care Plan – both developed by school health team (find out more here!)
- common triggers to avoid
- location of inhaler (special pocket in backpack, locker, nurse’s office, etc.)
- type of medication, dosage, times to take throughout the day
- check out this template!
- how to recognize seizure, what does it look like
- what to do if seizure occurs – do not restrain, move harmful objects out of the way, protect head
- when to call 911 – loss of consciousness longer than 5 minutes, difficulty breathing, repeated seizures
- check out this template!
- allergy triggers
- severity of allergic reaction
- signs of anaphylaxis to look for
- location of epinephrine auto-injector (AKA “EpiPen”)
Regardless of condition, this plan should include medication names and doses, emergency contacts, physician/specialist information, and steps of supportive action. Make it clear and concise, so that even a person unfamiliar with your child or their condition can step in and help. Your child, the school health team, their teachers, and other guardians should all have copies of the plan.
Preparation at Home
Involve the whole family in caring for your child; siblings, grandparents, and all other close relatives should be aware of the condition and necessary steps to take in case of emergency. Even at a young age, the child themselves should start learning about their condition and medical information, such as date of birth, emergency contact, medication type and dosing. Having these conversations not only prepares everyone involved, but it also destigmatizes the condition, making it less scary. Include topics of privacy in these conversations, as well: children should understand who the appropriate people are to share this sensitive information with.
It is also a good idea to proactively check in with your emergency contacts to make sure they are still ready to step in and respond if necessary. At the end of the day, the above measures help you feel at ease just as much as they help keep your child safe and healthy.