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Ep #37 From Silence to Support. A Systems-Based Approach for Navigating School Attendance Difficulties

adhd leadership neurodiversity podcast classroom 5.0 May 03, 2024


Last year, over 1.5 million Australian children  experienced difficulties attending school. That number reflects 39% of families with school aged children.


Their lack of attendance is not because they're 'naughty'. Not because they're 'defiant'. And not because of poor parenting. But because they can't.

In this special episode of Classroom 5.0, we're sharing the audio recording of our online training that covers the what and why of schools attendance difficulties, and how you can help. Listen to the podcast here, and download the full video training and slides that accompany the training here 

About this episode. 

Earlier this year, as back to school season commenced, my daughter and I shared a post on LinkedIn. In it, we spoke to our experience as a 'school can't' family that struck a chord. To date, that post has had 67 488 impressions, 1256 reactions and 260 comments.

Those numbers reflect the urgent need for connection and community around this challenge. A need recognised by others, including the grassroots initiative School Can't Australia, a grassroots initiative established by volunteers in 2014, in response to the lack of dedicated support services for families whose children and young people are experiencing school attendance difficulties.

(You can read the original post and the conversation that followed in the comments here on LinkedIn ) 

For the first three years of our own journey, I had no idea of the support available through School Can't Australia's Facebook Community, and I wish I had. Access to community and compassionate, judgement free conversations would have made a real difference.

To date, the group has a waitlist of over 2 500 parents, just like me. It remains a voluntary, for purpose initiative, and receives no government funding. And, it shows that a wicked problem like this requires multiple hands, minds and hearts on deck to share knowledge to support solutions.

Off the back of the overwhelming responses to that January post, I prepared and delivered a free online training to parents, teachers and HR professionals, wanting to learn more about School Can't, and how they can help. 

This week's special episode, which you can listen to here, features that training and the timing of repurposing the knowledge and insights within it is intentional. 

The conversation around the need for change continues. 

Just this week gone, Four Corners aired their report on the topic - 'The Kids Who Can't'. It created space and a platform for families, just like ours, to have their stories heard. It also featured behind the scenes insights into last year's Senate Inquiry and the tireless efforts being made by School Can't Australia.

After the episode aired, Louise Rogers, Parent Peer Mentor and Administrative Support for School Can't Australia took to LinkedIn and said: 

"Many Australian parents & carers supporting children and young people through school attendance difficulties are feeling very validated after watching tonight's episode of Four Corners. My son gave me a few giant bear hugs afterwards and told me how validating he found it also.

School Can't Australia is still unfunded, despite the recommendation from the senate to fund parent peer support. We play an extremely important role in supporting families. If you are moved to make a donation to help us maintain this vital service, you can do so here:


Want to go deeper in your learning?

Access the full training recording and presentations slides here

Social change starts with us sharing our stories, so that through curiosity and compassion, we can begin to understand another person's lived experience. With this compassion, we then need to take courageous action, and contribute collectively to design solutions for good. 

It's my belief that in order to design a future of learning that's inclusive of all, this nation wide challenge requires nation wide participation. That said, this training is intended to serve as a participatory piece, to support the greater body of work being carried by School Can't Australia and other community groups. My hope is that it equips you, the listener, with more information and skills to consider how you, too, might support those impacted by this social challenge.

The training aims to help you understand the 'what' and 'why' of school attendance difficulties, and offers practical, actionable steps that parents, teachers and HR professionals can take to provide collaborative, community based support for children and families affected.


In this episode we discuss:

  • Statistics around who is experiencing school attendance difficulties in Australia, and research findings that reveal our most vulnerable communities and groups

  • The challenges faced by families navigating school attendance, including difficulties with our siloed support systems, societal stigma, unclear pathways, conflicting recommendations, and increased risk of burnout amongst carers.

  • Why a systems thinking lens that recognizes the multiple factors and systems that influence a child's experience is crucial in understanding and addressing school attendance difficulties

  • How the biopsychosocial model can be used to understand the complex and varied factors that contribute to school attendance difficulties

  • Why current recommendations for addressing school attendance difficulties, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure therapy, may be necessary but not sufficient, and why a more comprehensive and collaborative approach for support is needed.

  • How workplaces can play a role in supporting families navigating school attendance difficulties Understanding the unique needs of neurodivergent children to design targeted support interventions for those experiencing school attendance difficulties

  • How alternative education options such as open universities, distance education, homeschooling, and democratic schooling can provide flexibility and support for neurodivergent children

  • Why collaboration between schools, families, and communities is essential in creating inclusive and supportive systems for neurodivergent children.



Links to resources discussed in the episode:

  • Watch the Four Corners episode here 
  • Read 'School Attendance Problems: A Research Update and Where to Go' (2021) here
  • Listen to the 2021 Melb/Vict ABC interview Rochelle Hunt and Warwick Long on ‘school refusal’, from perspective of families here
  • Read research on how school attendance impacts neurodivergent students in research : Granieri, J. E., Morton, H. E., Romanczyk, R. G., & Gillis Mattson, J. M. (2023). Profiles of School Refusal Among Neurodivergent Youth. European Education, 55(3-4), 186-201 here 
  • Read the article "School Attendance Problems Are Complex, and Our Solutions Need to be as Well" here 
  • Read how Canada is approaching school attendance difficulties in "Calgary Board of Education Annual Education Results Report 2022-23" here

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Thanks for tuning into another episode, and for your interest in Inclusive Impact. 



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