Having a child with diabetes attending school can be difficult for caregiving parents and guardians but also for school personnel.
Unlike parents of a child with diabetes, for many caregivers of young children, the school day signifies routine and some sense of order in the universe.
Having a child with diabetes at school will inevitably pose challenges for you that the rest of us can never fully appreciate.
Most parents and guardians are settled in to the day-to-day routines of school that basically govern the better part of their waking hours for the majority of the school year.
With any luck, remembering the backpacks, homework, school snacks, permission slips, library books, sunscreen, indoor shoes, etc., has become a little more second nature, and little less like the source of your night sweats. (Wait… did I empty that half-eaten tuna sandwich out of the backpack from last Friday... ugh!)
For many of us, our stress level starts to drop once our little ones are out the door, and safely on their way to a day full of intellectual stimulation and educational enrichment.
Unfortunately, for many caregivers that have a child with diabetes at school, sending your little one off to school five days a week can feel more like repeatedly marching your child off a steep cliff rather than a peaceful handoff to a safe and nurturing learning environment.
What so many of us take for granted about daily school routines, many parents and guardians of children with diabetes will often lose sleep over.
Proper diabetes care at school is vitally important so it is not uncommon for caregiving parents and guardians to ask:
“What if my child has a low blood sugar while at school?”
“Where will my child be able to test their blood sugar, take their insulin??”
“Will the school staff be able to help my child at all with their food choices at nutrition breaks???”
“Will the school staff be able to help my child if they are having any difficulty taking their medication????”
“What happens if my child takes their insulin, and they hold a fire drill before he/she eats?????”
Questions like these, and so many, many more, can be a source of great stress and anxiety for both the family of a child with diabetes at school and for the school-staff caregivers.
Diabetes resources for schools & parents
As a father of three young children, a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator, I empathize strongly with parents and guardians of children who are living with diabetes and facing the unique challenges and stresses that accompany the school year.
Whether your child has been living with diabetes for years, or whether this life-changing diagnosis has just recently landed smack-dab in the middle of your world, having a child with diabetes at school will inevitably pose challenges for you that the rest of us can never fully appreciate.
It does help to become familiar with a few starting points that you can turn to for reliable and accessible information to help you plan for a safe, enjoyable, welcoming, and of course, educational school environment for a child dealing with diabetes.
Diabetes Educators & Care Teams
I always begin by recommending that caregivers of children with diabetes make sure they are connected to a Diabetes Education Centre (or Diabetes Management Centre – the names vary), where you and your child can access the support and services of a Diabetes Educator.
Diabetes Educators are health professionals who are knowledgeable regarding diabetes care, management and education processes.
That being said, parents of a child with diabetes at school can benefit from Diabetes Educators and Diabetes Care Teams that specialize and/or have experience specific to diabetes in children and adolescents.
Diabetes Education Programs
If you or someone you know is a caregiver for a child with diabetes, you can locate a Diabetes Education Program near you by contacting the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) or through a health services and programs locator such as the Ontario Health Care Options Near You search engine.
The services of a Diabetes Educator can help you with managing diabetes at school but you can also access reliable information for parents, guardians, and school staff from a number of websites. There are several excellent online resources available (nationally and internationally).
Kids with Diabetes at School Program
For the purposes of this article, I thought I would share my personal favourite diabetes-in-school resource.
The Canadian Diabetes Association “Kids with Diabetes at School” webpage is, in my humble opinion, the go-to resource for all caregivers of school-aged children dealing with diabetes at school.
On this website, you will find the CDA Position Statement regarding “Students Living with Diabetes at School.” It’s always a good idea for families and other caregivers to understand the issues and rights related to diabetes in the school setting.
You will also be able to access a printable (or otherwise sharable) resource “Guidelines for the Care of Students Living with Diabetes at School.”
This booklet clearly provides an easy to understand explanation of the goals and issues regarding diabetes in the school setting. To ensure a safe, positive, welcoming, and fully inclusive learning environment and experience for students who just happen to have diabetes, the guideline provides an outline of the roles and responsibilities of all persons involved including:
- Parents and guardians
- Health care providers
- And school personnel
General guidelines such as this can help to provide a baseline of information and “norms” that can be supplemented by any specific requirements unique to the individual or child dealing with diabetes at school.
At the end of the day, perhaps the best tip or suggestion that I offer to any caregiver of a school-aged child living with diabetes is to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.
Recognize that there is a genuine need and desire for information to be shared between the child with diabetes at school and the parents/guardians, school staff, and school administration.
Along with this need, there is often some stress and concern for all caregivers involved with supporting a child with diabetes in the school system.
Sharing and discussing the right amount of reliable information can help everyone involved to understand and appreciate the reasonable steps and planning needed to ensure a safe and supportive school environment.
Sending a child out the door and off to school should be a positive experience for students and caregivers alike. The right planning and information can go a long way towards helping caregivers of a child with diabetes feel less concerned about marching their little ones off into the unknown.
(I’m afraid I haven’t got any tips about how to deal with the half-eaten tuna sandwich in the backpack... a subject perhaps for a different article.)