Foster care
Carer guide
Helping children go to school
When children don't want to go to school

When children don't want to go to school

It is normal for children to miss a day of school every now and then. If it happens a lot, it might be truancy or ‘school refusal’. Missing too much school can make it hard for them to feel like they belong and keep up with schoolwork. So it’s important to encourage school attendance.

About truancy and avoiding school

Avoiding school often happens around the same time as major changes in teenagers’ lives. Children in out of home care may experience more change than their peers. Teenagers might also avoid or wag school because they feel that nobody likes them or they don’t fit in. Children in care might be worried about their family situation.

If lots of these things are happening at once, it can be so upsetting that teenagers might feel they don’t fit in at school or feel anxious about leaving the house. Once a child feels this way, truancy becomes more likely.

It’s important to pick up on school problems early. The longer a child is away from school the more difficult it can be to get them to return.


Absenteeism is when children don’t go to school on a regular basis, usually with parental consent. A child might be absent because of illness, negative school experiences like bullying, learning difficulties or keeping up with homework or assessment tasks.


Truancy is when students are absent from school without their parents’ knowledge or permission.

School refusal

School refusal is when children refuse to go to school. It’s a more serious emotional problem involving fear of attending school or anxiety about leaving home. It’s different from truancy. Children might show symptoms like crying, panic, tantrums, aggression or threats of self-harm.

It is important to get the child back to school, because the longer they are away, the more difficult the situation is likely to become. Check with the teacher what is happening at school and let the child know that you are doing this. It is important to develop a good relationship with the child’s teacher.

Helping kids get back to school

If a child is not wanting to go to school it is usually not your fault, but you can help the child settle back into school.

  • If you say goodbye at home reassure them you will be there when they get back.
  • If you pick up the child after school, be reliable and on time - have a plan for those times when you might unavoidably be late
  • Consider letting the child take something of yours in their pocket to mind during the day (it need not be something valuable but needs to be something the child knows is yours and that you would not want to lose)
  • Give the child as much control over the problem as you can - ask them what they feel will help
  • Talk to the school about a time out option to give children control - once they are at school they can use the time out card to go to a safe place.
  • Don’t force children to go - partner with them to get them there
  • Don’t punish non-attendance – this may be pain based behaviour
  • Celebrate small successes – walking in the front gate, attending part of a lesson

You can find helpful resources on the Raising Children Network website here

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