Successfully Transitioning your Child from Hospitalization to School
Having a child become psychiatrically hospitalized is emotionally challenging and draining. The thought of transitioning back into school after hospitalization is often far from a parent’s mind, as more pressing matters, such as making sure their child is safe, consume them. Nonetheless, it is extremely important to think about, discuss, and appropriately plan for your child’s successful transition from hospitalization into school.
Careful attention to the transition back into school from hospitalization is particularly important because the first week after discharge is often a difficult adjustment for your child. The hospital setting is an extremely structured and emotionally safe environment. During their hospitalization, your child was typically monitored every fifteen minutes, received group and individual therapies daily, and maintained a high structured day from the moment your child woke up until the moment they fell asleep. Coming home and returning to school to much less structured environments can be extremely anxiety-provoking.
Successful transitioning back to school actually begins while your child is still hospitalized. Family therapy sessions that take place during your child’s hospitalization should include discussions about ways to deal with your child’s anxiety pertaining to returning to school. In order to help ensure the continuum of services and a smooth transition, it is typically important for parents to provide the necessary releases of information so that the hospital may communicate with your child’s school, as well as your child’s private therapist.
It is essential to meet with your child’s school to discuss and plan your child’s transition back to school. Parents and school districts should discuss the discharge plan and determine the most appropriate course of action, including, for example, outpatient therapy, the evaluation or reevaluation of your child, and the development of or revisions to an Individualized Education Program or Section 504 Agreement. Students returning to school after hospitalization are often concerned with the anticipated questions regarding their whereabouts for the time the student was absent. It can often help to relieve your child’s anxiety by discussing this and, for instance, providing them with suggested responses. Another area that often creates anxiety in students returning to school from a hospitalization is the accumulated school work the student is worried they may be responsible for completing. School districts should work with your child to help to alleviate their anxiety by making accommodations such as accepting the school work your child completed in the hospital; eliminating any requirement to complete the school work assigned while your child was hospitalized; or providing additional instruction to help your child learn the material they missed while they were hospitalized. Your child’s needs should be closely monitored and supported both at home and school, particularly during the weeks immediately following a hospitalization.
By Heather Hulse, JD, MS, MA of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.