Sending an allergic child to his first school

Karen Sullivan sent us this plea and we wondered if any reader could help. For advice from previous contributors see the Foods Matter website.

"We have a four-year-old son with multiple, life-threatening food allergies who is about to begin primary school in September. We assumed that government guidance would ensure that the staff could cater for his allergies, and protect him, and that one school was as good as another. Having visited the schools, we are aghast at the disparities.

"He has been offered a school where only two staff members are EpiPen trained and, in the past, both have been away on school outings on the same day! The staff members I spoke to didn't know where EpiPens were kept, or who could administer them. They didn't know how many children were allergic (and I subsequently discovered there are four), or to what. There is no written allergy policy. No risk assessment procedure. No experience!

"We have requested that he go to a larger, better prepared school, which has a medical room with medication kept in a child's 'drawer' with his/her photo on the front, pictures of allergic kids in the staffroom, a firm, written allergy policy and regular training of the staff by the school nurse, who also ensures that the ephinephrine, etc, is within its expiry date. They have a strong policy against bringing potentially allergic foods into the classroom or even playground, and even monitor art and science sessions. This seems like a hugely organised place, and we would feel much more confident about sending our little guy there. The medical board, however, says that 'all schools can cope with allergies', while we simply do not agree. Of course they can train the staff at the first school; however, they lack the experience and really would not be prepared for a reaction. Scrabbling around could cost our son his life.

"What is your experience?

"Do you think that all schools ARE different in the way they are set up to cope with seriously allergic children?

"Do you feel we have a right to ask for a school that will care for him properly and protect him?

"The thought of sending him off to school every morning and not knowing whether or not he'll return home is devastating. We have no confidence at all in the first school.

What do you advise? We are SO worried!"

Suggestions to:
Foods Matter, 5 Lawn Road, London NW3 2XS

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First published in July 2009

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