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Scrap fines for school non-attendance in England, say psychiatrists

Hundreds of psychiatrists have urged the government not to fine families for refusing to send their children to school in England, warning of anxiety if young people are asked to return to classrooms before they are ready.

In a letter to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, the chair of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Bernadka Dubicka, said: “The threat of fines could force parents of children who feel anxious to send them back to school, even if they’re not ready.

“This could have serious consequences on their mental health, especially if they are worried about family shielding. Fines could bring more financial stress on families as we’re entering a recession, severely affecting children’s and parents’ mental health.” The letter was signed by 250 child and adolescent psychiatrists.

It follows the news that fines could be imposed on families who do not send their children back to school in England from next week. Before the pandemic, fines for not having a child in school were £60 if paid within 21 days, and £120 after that. During the health crisis they were, in effect, suspended.

Williamson said fines would be used as a last resort if parents refused to send their children back. He said: “In terms of fining, we would ask all schools to work with those parents and encourage them to bring those children back.”

Dubicka said returning to school would be a “cause of significant anxiety” for some children.

“As child and adolescent psychiatrists, we have seen the devastating impact the Covid-19 crisis has had on the mental health of many young people … That is why we are calling on the government to suspend the threat of fines for parents of children who miss school and instead increase provisions to support the mental health of all children.”

She said the college did not believe fines were the best way to get children to return and, while the physical risks from the virus were low, the risk to young people’s mental health remained high.

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

Read the original article at The Guardian

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