Elluminate Provision and Suicide Prevention.
Why offering the support of Elluminate provision, and making parents aware of their legal choice to home school without having to adhere to the curriculum, may well prevent suicide.
At the time of writing I am aware not only of how deeply distressed my young teens were by the school environment and how my only regret about taking them out was that I did not do it sooner, but also I am conscious of three recent suicides of young teens locally which appear to have been linked to pressures due to school bullying and academic pressures. I know also from listening to other parents who have taken children out of school that they did so also to save their children as they were suffering so much. Their child’s self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts feature regularly among parents telling their stories of why they removed their children from school. The NI system, as it exists at the moment, is failing children and persecuting parents for having taken such a step it seems we are dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t.
Here are some facts about suicide, stress and young people, which parents often know through experience but which we need the NI Government to take into account so parents who have removed their children from school are supported, not threatened and harassed. The entire education system needs more compassion but the critical need is to support parents of children in crisis who have had to act by removing their children, through the offer of Elluminate provision so children are not further disadvantaged, and put at increased risks and vulnerability due to not getting their education if the school environment was not a good place for them.
Adolescence is a stressful developmental period filled with major changes - body changes, changes in thoughts, a brain which is still developing, and changes in feelings. Strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear, and uncertainty, as well as pressure to succeed, and the ability to think about things in new ways influence a teenager's problem solving and decision making abilities.
School Pressure has been shown to be the number one cause of stress in children. School-age children feel stressed about academic and extracurricular demands, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Students feel pressure to complete daily homework, participate in class, and finish projects and study for exams. In addition to the quest for good grades, the children may also participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports, student council, cheerleading and clubs. The added pastimes contribute to teenage anxiety because the activities may be competitive and require scheduling that cuts into study time and relaxing downtime.
The American Academy of Paediatrics considers peer pressure a major teenage stress factor. Although your child may have a solid group of friends, the children may pressure her to hang out in lieu of studying, break ties with former friends that the core group doesn't consider "cool" or experiment with drugs, alcohol or sexual activity that goes against her morals or family rules. “Peer pressure or bullying on campus and after school through phone calls, text messages and email may distract your child from studying, leading her to feel additional guilt and anxiety”.
•Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year in US, according to the CDC (US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention). For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 per cent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 per cent have attempted it.
•Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
•A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying
•10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above
•According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 per cent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.
Whilst many parents in NI are pressured to keep their children in school for socialisation statistics like this, of which there are many, need to remind us that while hopefully the majority of children benefit from the social aspect of school, there is a negative side of bullying including bullying by teachers, academic pressure, peer pressure re alcohol, underage sex, drugs, clothes, body image, smoking, and many more issues often silently endured by young people. Studies show eight out of ten young people who self-harm do not tell anyone so we must also acknowledge that suffering in children often goes unreported – but parents notice and become concerned about their child. Parents can and must act and we should be grateful and respectful of that.
Tom Lyons wrote this article in the Herald Tribune Magazine;
It's dismaying that any young and healthy high school student living an ordinary life could feel so overcome with despair that suicide is even contemplated.
And so, whenever a teenage suicide happens, we try to find out what went wrong. Was the victim coping with extreme bullying, unwanted pregnancy, sexual abuse, parental divorce, a traumatic break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or drug abuse? Was there anything out of the ordinary that might have made a teenager feel so despondent and unable to cope?
But teen suicide isn't so rare. It's the third leading cause of death for teenagers, and the rate has tripled since 1960. And, often, the victim's problems seem puzzlingly ordinary.
So, what if the key underlying cause is something ordinary, something we think is good for young people, something we require because we think it will help them enjoy bright futures?
That is, what if the underlying cause of fatal despair for high school kids is high school itself?
That's pretty much the conclusion of the two researchers who published "Back to School Blues: Seasonality of Youth Suicide and the Academic Calendar." Revealing suicide statistics were found by the authors, Benjamin Hansen of the Economics Department at the University of Oregon, and Matthew Lang of the Department of Economics at the Williams College of Business, Xavier University.
Their findings fly in the face of the old saying that idle hands are the devil's workshop. If so, teens should get into far more trouble and despair during the summer, when they have plenty of time for sex, drugs, crime, violent video games, bullying and any other problematic and unsupervised activity.
But that's exactly when high school students don't commit suicide, Lang and Hansen found. By a large margin, no-school months are when their suicide numbers bottom out.
High-schoolers also get arrested less in the summer.
And no, it's not because winter has gloomy weather and less sunlight, they say. That's a suicide factor for the general population. But after adjusting for that, high school suicides remained way too high all through the school year.
The rate dropped off during holiday breaks. And the unusual numbers don't apply to 19-21 year olds.
The researchers don't call for doing away with high school. But they theorize that today's gargantuan schools are just too full of teens. Many feel no bonds of friendship or kinship, yet are forced into peer interactions that can be relentlessly stressful.
Sure, adults seem to be in charge. But many interactions take place out of adult sight and sound, and many involve status rivalry, jealousy, peer pressure, bullying and varying degrees of rejection and ostracism.
Add academic demands and homework and a grouchy teacher or two, and those kids live in an unusually stressful, demanding and crowded world unlike anything most adults deal with.
We think we have been there and done that. But maybe we grossly underestimate the hopeless feelings many teenagers feel in the high school world we created and herded them into.
It's easy to think home-schooling parents are overly protective and rob their kids of the chance to develop social skills that come with peer interactions. But I wonder how many peers — especially unfriendly ones — a teenager must be forced to interact with daily to get this alleged improvement?
"Previous research has found evidence of academic benefits to longer school years," the researcher's wrote. But their own study, they said, suggests a serious downside, because high school students "face increased stress and decreased mental health when school is in session."
The Report discussed by Tom Lyons documented a large decrease in youth suicide in during summer. ► Adults from a slightly older age ranges exhibit no summer decrease in suicide. ► The summer decline in youth suicide is not explained by weather, unemployment, or SAD. ► The increase rate of youth suicide during non-summer months aligns with school calendar. ► That increase may be indicative of broader stress experienced by youth in school.
So what about the children when parents took action and removed their children from school? In the study titled ‘The Prevalence of Home Education in England’: A Feasibility Study by Vicky Hopwood, Louise O'Neill, Gabriela Castro and Beth Hodgson of York Consulting Ltd they found that the effects of home education reported by parents interviewed included:
Personal benefits such as:
− high levels of confidence and self-esteem;
− happier children;
− high standards of behaviour;
− ability to mix with children and adults;
Family benefits such as:
− a close relationship between parent and child;
Benefits for lifelong learning, for example:
− a self-directed approach to learning;
− motivation to learn;
- developments in line with age-related peers:
− some parents reported their children to be successfully following the curriculum at the level of, or in advance of, their age-related peers.
Some parents who had withdrawn their children from school to home educate because of concerns over their welfare, reported mental health benefits as well as ‘educational’ progress such as a reduction in self-harm and improved self-confidence.
In additions to the findings above we know too that psychologists and psychiatrists universally agree that the fundamental basic in helping anyone in difficulty is a close relationship. With many home educators reporting a closer relationship with their children, better sleep and nutrition it is easy to see the healing and wellbeing potential in this option.
Historically children in NI often fall between the stools of different government departments. It seems in this case these children are falling between health and education. Suicide prevention is everybody’s business; parents especially thankfully instinctively act for their child, seeing the suffering the child often hides behind a brave face in school.
Following on from Protect Life, is The Northern Ireland Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan 2012 - March 2014. It has much to say about raising awareness but it also requires Statutory and public bodies to carry out health impact assessments on their policies, in terms of possible adverse effect on the mental health and wellbeing of local communities. This is especially relevant to current ELB’s practice when a parent acts to protect their child’s wellbeing by removing them from school –a source of suicide causation. Parents in such situations frequently report adverse suffering, bullying, threats, undermining, and disrespectful behaviour by those involved, they report not being listened to about their child’s needs, and added anguish from government departments resulting in undue pressure when they need to prioritise care and calm for their child’s wellbeing.
It seems that parents proactively protecting the welfare of their child not coping with school are being pressured, harassed and often threated if not actually prosecuted by the current system. The multi-disciplinary teams involved and the education welfare officers often fail to recognise and respect the parent’s rights to and their action of protecting the child’s welfare. The effective and well publicised provision of Elluminate has the potential to offer a compassionate solution to everyone’s welfare concerns, parents and education offices and as such is urgently needed by many in crisis situations today.
The Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan recommends that government “Promotes a culture of seeking help” – many children who are now out of school sought help, their parents thankfully listened and acted. We do not know how many children who have died by suicide due to stress from in or as a result of school, had parents who felt or were not aware they had a choice to de register their child or felt they could not manage to home educate and so continued to send their child until their child could no longer cope and the child acted to end their pain. For those parents who acted for their children’s well-being and removed their children from school, the government now needs to respect that act and support children and parents via the choice of Elluminate and end the battle against parents often and mercifully acting to protect their child’s wellbeing.
Note; For more information on the Elluminate Our Lives Campaign, please see our new and developing website. Particularly relevant to this is the section ‘Resources and Links’ which contains links to articles and talks on different ways to educate.
If you have been affected by the referances to suicide in this article please call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000
An Open Letter to the Minister of Education May 2013
Dear John O’Dowd, Minister of Education,
I am writing to appeal to you to sort out a long running problem involving invisible children. I know you understand cancer, and illness, but maybe like most people you don’t understand autism or aspergers. A strange thing happened in the last month when we set up Elluminate Our Lives. Most of the parents in desperation, who had children in distress in need of education, who came forward were those with children with aspergers, some with cancer and ME and other long term illness but the vast majority aspergers. You provide special schools and children with autism often attend there, so by virtue of such provision you admit that often children with autism can’t do mainstream. Many high function children with autism entering mainstream may become unwell whilst in mainstream and are eventually if not previously diagnosed with aspergers. This is a hidden disability. These children look normal, mostly act normally but often really suffer inside. Please read more about how things are for these families here http://www.autismni.org/is-anyone-listening.html It’s really important you read this and understand the incredible suffering and service failures that impact on these families. You would think someone would have done something about these ages ago – but look again at that report linked in and think if that was you would you have the energy to fight as well as care for your child?
What is happening now when these children can’t cope with school and teachers are not trained, skilled enough or willing to help them? even if they could the child can’t cope with the noise, bullying, isolation or interactions in school and becomes very unwell, withdrawn, tearful, have panic attacks, start self-harming, have meltdowns and or become suicidal? Every one of these children is so different it’s almost impossible to write guidance to what triggers their distress, it could be paper or light bulbs, girls are harder to identify than boys, even they and their parents are on a permanent learning curve. Children sense who is vulnerable, easily led, easy prey and easy to isolate – parents cannot get schools to protect their children adequately. There is no understanding or deserved appreciation for these unique, often gifted children or disabilities in school. Autism is never easy for anyone. But these children have parents who know when their child has reached a point they can’t cope anymore and they stop dragging their child to school retching and tearful on the way. Parents are programmed to protect, we are all grateful for that force of nature.
What often happens then adds insult to injury, autism support services if a diagnosis is there, fail, CAMHs are not ASD services so they often fail too. Education Welfare Officers who have zero understanding get involved, threatening court action if they don’t get their child back in. Many are taken to court; (one of us has a case next week). Multi-disciplinary meetings take place; the ‘professionals’ who mostly know nothing about the child decide what the child and parent must do. Rarely is there anything the professionals need to do. These meetings are often described even by those who sit on them as like hunt pack on a power trip. If the child can’t manage their list of demands, to go through their systems, and serve their procedures so their boxes are ticked, they call in social services to do what they think the parents can’t, only to discover its not so simple, but cause massive distress and damage to the child and family in the process, as they have no understanding either. Parents are ignored whether they cry or are calm through this entire nightmare. At some stage they may find out they can stop the madness by de-registering their child from school. Now they get nothing are forgotten and disappear still further. The system as it is, in schools and surrounding school attendance, of children not coping in school, abuses vulnerable children and families. How anyone reports such system abuse and neglect and to whom? – is another issue.
UK Education authorities report anecdotal evidence which suggests that many of those leaving school early are on the gifted and talented register. This may well correlate with this recent article http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21829194.300-rise-of-the-autistic-workforce.html on the high value of work force with autism. Silicon valley is often referred to as autism city. New Belfast IT firms are actively seeking autistic staff as they think outside the box. It’s not only financially prudent to lessen the chances of lifelong dependency on benefits by ensuring access education but it may be wise to present these often gifted children educated and ready to bring brilliance to attract industry to NI. (Yes as they get older they develop strategies to manage better in the world and do cope better with adults than a mass of teenagers, especially when they work in their chosen interest)
That Elluminate, the compassionate effective solution that it is, has not been and is not offered immediately to these parents is a total disgrace. How anyone reports such system abuse and neglect and to whom? – is another issue.
You said in your tweet today you don’t know of any valid reason why schools do not use Elluminate. Now teachers were according to your letter to the Children’s Law Centre, trained in this in 2011. C2k got £170million. Imagine if these children in need were able to go to an actual building for this, something you could see, but it was all sitting empty and the teachers meant to be teaching were not – I think you would know the reason after two years. But these are invisible children. They are in families isolated by ignorance of autism, other disability or illness. We need you to remember them.
Why have you gone on since 2011 just offering 4 hours a week of home tuition to families with children who have cancer or illness or disability when Elluminate can give full access? This adds more insult to injury, not only do these children and families have all the worry of the illness or disability but the added anxiety of getting behind with their education. Many want to engage for therapeutic reasons too, not wanting to lose any more of themselves. We all can work to keep our minds of things; they deserve the choice of that too. Elluminate helps restore confidence, self-esteem, engages, and connects – lots more than just education.
Why are you allowing teachers union to block Elluminate since last September? You are responsible for educating autism kids not the unions. What is it all about with the unions? We believe from what we hear, teachers say they don’t want someone listening into their classes – to disguise this fear they scaremonger ridiculous claims about paedophiles, preying on a class. Paedophiles do not prey on maths teachers broadcasting how to work out equations. Mostly no camera is even used; paedophiles don’t have any interest in teacher’s voices. Think for a moment about a youth club you know, there is always more than one staff on duty, imagine you were running it and a staff member said I want to be alone with these children, I don’t want anyone listening in. Alarm bells by any child protection designated officer would ring. Why is it that 17% of children who came to DENI’s contacted schools counselling service New Life did so due to bullying by teacher? If that many came how many more suffered but did not feel so confident to confide? It’s hard to wonder if there is not a connection here somewhere between their reluctance and that fact. How anyone reports such system abuse and neglect and to whom? – is another issue. Elluminate may have many benefits making openness and transparency surround our children as it should.
We need immediate access now to Elluminate not a process of awareness of Elluminate – this is our kids’ lives, futures, and their wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. We need you to make this happen, sort it out for us. Set up a central school with all those new teachers you are employing. Write their new contract to include allowing access from home for those who can’t attend school. The possibilities of resolving this quickly are endless; between C2K, IT staff and eligible classroom assistants in schools anything is possible. Where there is a will, there is a way, and it certainly should be true after spending £170 million please make sure it’s not all on the icing on the cake for those who can attend school because our children deserve more than the crumbs.
As parents outside the system after we have been failed by the system, we watch other parents fighting over their choice of school or merge of schools with humility bestowed by our suffering.
We ask that the abandoned invisible children getting no education get priority in your day.
Minister O’Dowd, we appeal to you to find these invisible children and Elluminate Our Lives.
Elluminate Our Lives.