Meeting the Increasing Needs of Medically Fragile Children Becoming More Important

By Eder, Nancy Vaughn | Momentum, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview
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Meeting the Increasing Needs of Medically Fragile Children Becoming More Important


Eder, Nancy Vaughn, Momentum


When a student is enrolled, the question is always asked: Can the school meet the student's educational needs? Administrators now also must consider if the school can meet the medical needs of the student.

Catholic schools strive to teach as Jesus did and to offer an educational opportunity to all families who seek a Catholic education for their children. Catholic schools, however, have limited resources for providing for the educational needs of students who have a physical, educational, emotional or mental disability.

Yet inclusion of students with handicaps, chronic illness, acute (non-infectious) health problems and special needs is possible with cooperative planning and creative use of community, parish and school resources.

During the past three years, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth saw a dramatic shift in the medical needs of their students. To determine the impact, information was gathered from the diocese's 20 schools and the results were presented at a principals' meeting during the spring of 2008.

The survey validated the increasing and changing health needs of the student population. The list is pages long and includes a student with an amputation resulting from cancer, a child with spina bifida who requires a wheelchair and numerous children with heart disease. A comparison with a survey done eight years before showed a dramatic shift in student health needs. Neither survey included the health needs of school faculty members.

When a student is enrolled, the question is always asked: Can the school meet the student's educational needs? Administrators now also must consider if their school can meet the medical needs of the student. Additionally, administrators need to consider the student already enrolled who subsequently develops a catastrophic illness. During the past three years, a number of students in both elementary and high schools incurred sudden life-changing illnesses.

Accommodation plans were instrumental in meeting the individual educational needs of these students, but we found that often the medical needs changed frequently, along with the need to adjust the individual accommodation plans. Flexibility and the willingness to accommodate their medical needs are critical for these students

Developing the Comprehensive Health Plan

Chronically ill students are to have a comprehensive health plan developed jointly by teachers, nurses, principals, parents and physicians in order to coordinate information and methods of management in school. An accommodation plan should be prepared and followed for such students. Open communication with the entire team of people working with the medically fragile student and the family is imperative. Students, even the very young, have insight into their illness and often are able to share this.

We need to be there to listen. Assistance from the child's hospital staff also has proven helpful to several of our schools. Self-help techniques should be implemented to build confidence and to encourage the student to remain in school and to participate as fully as possible. This can be accomplished by addressing the student's individual needs in writing and working with the health team as addressed earlier.

At both children's hospitals in North Texas, child-life specialists are available when children are in the hospital. They also are available to the schools to provide education for the chronically ill child's classmates and to work with the faculties at the schools. Specialists are available to assist with any child who has a chronic illness such as cardiac disease, diabetes, cystic fibrosis or cancer. These capable educators are able to explain to other young children, without causing undo fear, about a classmate who has cancer. They also are able to talk with teenagers, who often have questions but are fearful of asking them in front of their peers.

Real-Life Situations

After more than 17 years of school nursing experience, I have assisted with many individual accommodation plans for the students.

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