School Refusal Program

The School Refusal Program is now closed for referrals.

What is school refusal?

A certain degree of anxiety and fear about school and school camps is normal for children. However, some children experience excessive anxiety which can result in refusal to attend school (hence the term "school refusal" or "school phobia"). Such children often complain of headache, stomachache or other physical illness. School refusal occurs in about one to two per cent of school children.

School refusal causes much distress to the child and also interferes with the child's social and educational development. The more time the child is away from school, the more difficult it is for the child to resume normal school life. As it is a difficult problem to manage, school refusal creates stress for parents and school teachers.

School refusal program

The program offered a comprehensive assessment and treatment of young people aged between 11 and 16.5 years who were experiencing school attendance difficulties. School refusing children typically suffer from anxiety and sometimes depression, and become severely emotionally distressed when taken to school or at the thought of school. They often complain of feeling unwell, they may cry, resist efforts to get them back to school and become quite distressed. Left untreated serious short and long-term consequences are associated, such as interfering with a young person's social and emotional development, academic achievement and vocational opportunities, and leave them at risk of psychiatric difficulties later in life.

Our program investigated whether treatment outcome can be improved by augmenting counselling specifically (cognitive behaviour therapy) which helps over half of school refusing children, with anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication compared to placebo (sugar tablet).

The School Refusal Program was funded by beyondblue: the national depression initiative and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The program aims to investigate the adjunct use of anti-depressant medication and counselling to treat children who refuse to go to school due to anxiety and/or depression.

See study results published in Springer Link.

Chief investigators