Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Students Living with Chronic Illness: The School Counselor's Role

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Students Living with Chronic Illness: The School Counselor's Role

Article excerpt

To investigate the current practices of schools and school counselors working with students with chronic illness and the protocols for providing these services, the authors conducted a mixed design, grounded theory study, with an eye toward pinpointing any trends or patterns in service provision. They identified a collaborative, developmental, multisystemic model for working with these students. This article also discusses counselors' recommendations on how to improve the responsive service delivery process.


"Joshua is sick and in the hospital. They don't know what's wrong. He'll probably be in the hospital for another day or two. I'm worried and we don't want him to fall behind in his school work."

Although nothing about an initial contact with a parent/caregiver of an ill child is typical, these are often the words school counselors will first hear. This is a frightening situation for parents, as their child is now in the health care system, an unfamiliar system in which parents have little or no control. Reaching out to the school is an understandable effort to "do something" in a more familiar and accessible environment. Early parent-counselor communication can provide support to the parent while building the foundation for future collaboration. Interactions of this nature are occurring with greater frequency. As professional school counselors, what is our role and how do we best meet the needs of these students and families?

As the incidence rate of chronic illness in children rises, the responsibilities and complexities of the role of the school counselor must expand to include this growing population. Although the majority of children in the United States are considered healthy (61 million or 83%), approximately 20% of school-age children are living with chronic illness (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] 2008; Engelke, Guttu, Warren & Swanson, 2008; Zylke & DeAngelis, 2007). With advancements in health care and emphasis on having students return to their normal routine, children with chronic illness are increasingly coping with both the challenges of their illness and the demands of a typical school day (Kaffenberger, 2006; Prevatt, Heffer & Lowe, 2000; Van Cleave, Gortmaker & Perrin, 2010). The difficulties incurred while coping with chronic illness impact students' academic, social, and emotional development, thereby making the role of the school counselor even more complex (Shin, 2001).

Support for children facing these issues is within the realm of the entire school community. Leading the effort within this community is the school counselor. As community leaders, school counselors initiate the support process through collaboration with the various professionals in the student's life and by providing responsive services to the student, the student's family, and the community. The American School Counselor Association's (ASCA; 2005) National Model provides the framework for the role of school counselors that includes providing responsive services that support students' academic, career, and social-emotional development. These responsive services encompass consultation, individual and group counseling, crisis counseling, referrals, and peer facilitation (ASCA, 2005). Students with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, allergies, cardiac conditions, Addison's disease, and obesity are in need of many, if not all, of these services (Perrin, Bloom & Gortmaker, 2007; Van Cleave et al., 2010). Additionally, due to the nature of chronic illness, the services required may change frequently and must therefore be evaluated continuously in order to keep current with the fluctuations in a student's health.

Meeting the changing needs of this diverse student population calls for the use of a holistic, developmental, and systemic approach. Using the developmental systems theory, counselors can address the life stage and development of these students within the context of the various systems in their world (Lerner, 2005). …

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