Back to school with food allergies
Sending your child off to school with serious food allergies can be daunting and stressful. Having a good risk minimisation plan in place and building communication with your child’s school can make a big difference.
Make sure inclusion is a part of the plan. A good health care plan will consider the emotional side of food allergies such as anxiety as well as preventing discrimination and exclusion from learning.
3 keywords to think about:
Back to school quick tips
- Meet with the teacher and principal and school nurse if you have one.
- Consider inclusion and how that will be ensured … communicate, include, assure
- How will your child’s condition be communicated to ALL teachers?
- Revise your plan at least every 12 months or anytime there needs to be a change
- Communication – keep in touch with your child’s teacher and keep positive open communication. This is everyone’s job
- Talk about the particulars of your child. For instance, discuss any anxieties your child has, asthma, previous reactions, personal nature, friendships etc. Every child is different and unique.
- Ask for a communication letter to parents, to inform them and build a team of support. See a template letter here
- Follow up! Keep touching base to ensure the plan is being followed. Making a plan is the first step, ensuring it’s being followed is just as essential. Is your child being included? Is the school communicating to you? How is your child handling the plan, talk with your child as needed.
Anaphylaxis risk management plan
What can you include?
Here is a starting point checklist of things you may want to include/consider:
- List all allergies and other health conditions
What are the serious allergies? What other health conditions does your child have? For instance asthma, and any other health conditions.
- Description of previous anaphylactic episodes
What were the symptoms? It can helpful to discuss with your child’s teachers to let them know how quickly these reactions can occur and to hear the details.
- Where are your child’s EpiPens to be stored?
Everyone needs to know and agree. Never ever in a locked cupboard! Emergency medicines must be easily accessible, and never more than a few minutes from reach. It may be stored in first aid room, on the student, or in the classroom or a combination of these. If being stored in the first aid room/area, is it organised, away from sunlight and heat, and labelled, not in a mess or hard to find in an emergency?
- Cross-contamination from another child’s food
Regular discussions with the students about the importance of washing hands, eating their own food and not sharing food supervision of eating so that food is not shared and (child name) does not come into contact with allergens. Washing tables if lunch is eaten in the class-room can be essential, and hand washing routines for the class may be essential too.
- Allergens in party or special occasion food
- No food from an outside source to be given to (name child) including treats for other children, or food prepared by other parents. Some state guidelines do outline how important this can be.
- Parents to be liased with about food related activities ahead of time, and not to be socially excluded from a learning activity. Supply a treat box with safe cupcakes/treats for celebrations
- Advocate for food free classroom celebrations which many schools are now moving towards.
- Food-related activities in class
- ALL food activities in class will be communicated to parents, whether eating or handling - with sufficient time to either give permission or to arrange a substitute food.
- No food is to be handled or eaten by (child name) without express permission from parents.
- Food rewards should be discouraged
- Science with food should be discussed with parents first
- Music classes
Music teacher to be aware there should be no sharing of wind instruments e.g.recorders. Speak with child’s parents if necessary to provide child’s own instrument.
- Art classes
Check art materials. Recycled food materials should not be used. Ensure containers used by (name child) do not contain allergens, e.g. ensure masks, paints, glue, play dough, and ALL materials do not contain allergens for the child.
- Picking up rubbish, or cleaning classroom.
As this is a possibility of touching allergens from rubbish in the playground, (name child) will NOT be asked to do rubbish duty or pick up waste.
- Canteen: possibility of sale of a food containing allergen.
Encourage parents to visit and communicate to canteen and staff. Display photos of allergic children and their allergies in canteen, visible to all canteen workers. Staff, including volunteer staff to be educated in safe food handling procedures and risk of cross contamination of foods, and reading ingredient labels.
Each excursion needs it’s own risk management plan, as well as communication with parents to identify any potential risks. Excursions, sports carnivals, swimming programs or sports days require careful planning and consultation with child’s family.
- Part-time educators and casual relief teachers.
How is this communicated? What is in the handover folder? Who is in charge of communicating to relief teachers?
- Incursion presenters
To be made aware so they can manage potential anaphylactic risks and respond to anaphylaxis appropriately if it should occur. Parents should be notified about incursions ahead of time.
- Pet visitors or school farmyard.
Think about asthma here too. Be aware that some animal feed contains food allergens e.g. nuts in birdseed and cowfeed. Does student need to wear gloves, or at least wash hands after touching animals.
- School Camps
Camps require their own thorough planning, and separate detailed risk management plan that requires thought, consultation and communication. Some key points can be included here.
Every child is different, and their individual needs will be different and unique. The above list is intended as a guide and is in no way an exhaustive list. Please consult with your allergist and local education department for further guidance.
Building confidence with your child, school and teacher can be rewarding. Schools are for everyone, and every student needs to feel safe and valued.
Disclaimer, these are only suggestions, I am not a qualified medical expert, and this article does not constitute as medical or legal advice in any way, rather only suggestions as an allergy mum with experience in education sector.