Back to school - teacher aide funding

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Jacqui van Blerk explains how to apply for teacher aide funding and work with your child’s school to keep them safe.

When you’re struggling to come to grips with your child’s type 1diabetes diagnosis, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the ‘new normal’ carries a few more complexities than the old one did. The immediate concern is stabilising their erratic blood sugar levels and learning how to administer blood glucose checks and insulin doses. Every meal and snack becomes a minefield of doubts – Did she eat the crusts? Did I eyeball that quarter unit correction correctly? How long will the carbs take to digest?

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on these more immediate concerns than face the bigger question – How are we going to return to a semi-normal routine? And what about school? For some of us, when diagnosis involves a preschooler, we have a little more time to explore options before they head off to primary school. For many, a week of medical treatment and diabetes education is all that stands between the old routine and the new. After that, life becomes a bit more complicated and school is one of those hurdles that needs to be overcome.

There are no hard and fast rules in the education sector governing the standards of care for children with diabetes (and nothing that provides for the care of preschoolers). The onus falls on the parents to work with the childcare facility or school to draft a workable care plan that is specific to their child’s requirements. The most immediate concern is making sure that the child receives attention for hypoglycaemic incidents (hypos) and that insulin can be administered for meals and blood glucose checks are carried out. This becomes more critical when dealing with children who are too young to accurately interpret their blood glucose readings or who are hypo unaware.

By establishing a good relationship with the school staff, it becomes easier to discuss care options and strategies, including the possibility of assigning a teacher aide to the child to provide more immediate and individual care.

The Ministry of Education makes teacher aide funding available through their School High Health Needs (SHHN) programme – but the process can take months to finalise. What parents may not realise is they can initiate the SHHN (teacher aide) application process themselves. The application form is available from the Ministry of Education’s website and consists of the caregiver’s description of the child’s specific healthcare situation and requirements and a medical specialist’s confirmation of your child’s health needs. It’s important to ensure that all the relevant details are listed in the initial application. This includes the likelihood and severity of hypos, frequency of bolusing (by injection or pump), as well as the age and ability of the child to assume responsibility for testing and bolusing. The school is responsible for submitting the completed form to the Ministry of Education, which reviews the application and subsequently either declines or approves the request in principle.

If the initial application has been successful, the Ministry will request a meeting with the school and caregiver to review the specific requirements and set the number of funded hours per week. At this point it pays to prepare as much information as possible to include in the draft care plan! Funded hours are calculated on estimates of time required to perform various tasks, like taking a blood glucose reading, and extrapolating that out over the number of tests required per day and then per week. If the testing process takes five minutes and needs to be done four times a day, the requirement would be 100 minutes per week, or roughly one and three-quarter hours of teacher aide funding. Additional time may be required if the test results need to be discussed with the caregiver for the calculation of insulin dosages. For small children, supervision may be required to ensure that all food that has been bolused for, has been eaten!

The care plan should also take into account any additional supervision for sporting activities. Try to establish the minimum window of teacher aide coverage required; if breakfasts and lunches always trigger high blood sugars, then potentially the teacher aide would only be required from 10am, and not after 2pm. Discussing the normal daily routines will help provide the Ministry representatives and school staff with the necessary insight into your child’s healthcare needs.

Once the care plan has been discussed, the Ministry will arrive at a final total of funded hours. At this point the school may decide to provide coverage for additional hours –this funding comes from the school budget and if you’re lucky enough to receive it, I strongly recommend taking an active role in the PTA or volunteering for their fundraising activities! They are not obliged to provide anything over and above the Ministry’s allocation, so any contribution from them is incredibly generous.

The final piece of the puzzle is the recruitment of a suitable teacher aide. The school may already have teacher aides on their staff, and use the funding to provide increased hours, or they may need to advertise for applicants. If you’re aware of any friends, family or acquaintances who meet the general employment criteria, it can be very helpful to provide their details to the school to expedite the recruitment process.

The teacher aide funding is reviewed on an annual basis and you can expect it to decrease as the child becomes more confident and competent at managing their diabetes tasks themselves. Unless there are additional compounding health issues, very few children will receive teacher aide funding once they are at intermediate or secondary school level.

Northland Primary School in Wellington has about 340 students, including two young children under eight with diabetes. It has two teacher aides supporting the children in their classes every day at school. Principal Jeremy Edwards said it was important to work closely with their parents to ensure their safety at school. The Board of Trustees has decided to fund additional teacher aide support at a cost of $8,000 a year. Principal Jeremy Edwards said: “The teacher aide funding provided doesn’t cover every hour of the school day, nor the per hour rate paid to the teacher aides. We have taken the decision to top up the funding out of the school’s operations budget. One of our teacher aides is very experienced with diabetes as she has an older child with the condition. We feel it’s important there is someone on the premises who knows what do to if either of the children has a hypo or another diabetes-related issue and requires medical assistance.”

**This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Diabetes Wellness magazine. Subscribe to Diabetes NZ today to receive your copy.

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Jo Chapman