Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Managing food allergies at school
Do you have a child with food allergies at school?
Sadly, most of the time when food allergies are reported in the media it is because a school is seeking to ban a particular food (there is a story every day from the US media). [Obviously, this wasn't the case with Allergy Awareness Week (15-22 May)].
And each time this happens there are clearly two camps (both very small, I imagine) who are particularly vocal - a small group of parents who feel that the rights of a minority should not dictate the rights of the majority, and another very small group who feel that having a peanut butter sandwich in the school will kill their child.
Interestingly, many parents who do not support food bans in schools actually have children with food allergies. And most of them are members of Allergy New Zealand (and we assume it is because they have access to trusted information and support!).
Not surprisingly, we hear the same old story that if your child is that allergic, why don’t they stay home? Unfortunately, this debate does bring out a callous attitude in some people who believe our children should not participate in society if they are too difficult to cater for.
Most of us are well aware that our children need to learn responsibility from an early age, but it is also our duty as a caring community to support them in this. It is like teaching children how to cross the road safely - you don't expect a six-year-old to suddenly be able to cross a busy street on their own. It takes time, education and the support of the school and wider community.
One of the reasons why many organisations similar to Allergy New Zealand don’t support blanket bans is that they do tend to polarise the community and it is a lot harder to get people on your side and to help your child live safely when that happens. Also, if you ban one food, where do you stop?
The other reason bans are not supported is that it takes the focus and effort away from awareness and education and shifts it on to enforcing the ban. The child with the allergy also needs to learn, in a supportive environment, how to take control and manage their condition.
But while imposing a food ban may not be the answer, other strategies and policies should be in place to help keep children with allergies safe, particularly when they are very young.
Our chief exec, Penny, was interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme two weeks ago. Have a listen if you have time here.
In the meantime, what has been your experience with your school?
If you have a child at intermediate or secondary school, how have you approached the school?
What are some strategies you have taught your child to keep themselves safe? And how supportive has your school been?
And have you been aware that Public Health Nurses are there to help you?
We'd love to hear your experiences.
PS Keep your eyes peeled for an updated version of Allergy New Zealand's Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines for Schools and Early Childcare Centres.