Oregon, Minnesota, and Utah have passed laws allowing excused school absences for mental health. Both New York (NY Bill S6687) and New Jersey (NJ Bill 5780/S4122) are in the process of considering similar bills.
I was pretty excited when I first heard about these bills. On one hand; this will help to reduce the stigma of mental illness by giving it the same credence as physical illnesses.
It could also allow a child in distress to see a mental health professional quickly, since school hour appointments may be easier to secure. Also, it can alert the school about a particular child who may be struggling, that they had not previously known about. Allowing the school to offer help with interventions and support.
But I was quickly reminded by leading psychologists Dr.Anne Marie Albano, who is a well-known school refusal researcher and Dr. Shane Owens who specializes in helping emerging adults and parents, that this may not be helpful in the case of school refusal. Kids dealing with school refusal are avoiding something that is causing them distress. Research consistently shows that the more kids avoid school, the harder it is to get them back to school. Avoidance is a negative coping mechanism that works to their detriment. If a parent knows their child can be excused, they may not persist in their demands to get their kid to school that day, thus perpetuating their avoidance.
At face value, these laws seem like a good idea, but for school refusal kids it may have the opposite effect.
What do you think? And if there are any Oregon, Minnesota or Utah parents reading this, we would love to hear how this has affected you.
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