Schools and Allergies…
Food allergies affect an estimated 20 million Europeans. Of those, a staggering 3.5 million, are people below the age of twenty-five.
When living with a life-threatening allergy, prevention is the key to living safely. You have to rely on avoiding the allergen, and in case of emergency have an Epi-pen at the ready. When you are small your parents or carers manage this for you. As you get older, you have to take on that responsibility yourself.
Food is an everyday event, and you don’t just come across food at mealtimes. Allergens can be found in many foods, and often labelling is poor, inconsistent or misleading, and the majority of the public have no understanding or awareness of the problem. When you dwell on this the world becomes a very frightening place.
The preparation of foods can mean that there is a risk of cross-contamination, which is another serious issue to consider.
As a teenager and as you start to become more independent and you want to take part in a variety of social events and activities, you have to be constantly vigilant – as do your closest friends.
Imagine the stress this causes young people and their parents, every single day.
How does a teenager with allergies cope going back to school?
Living with food allergies can cause huge stress. For teenagers it can also affect their emotions, causing them to feel embarrassment, fear, anger, frustration, anxiety and confusion. They may even go through a period of denial, particularly if their allergies have been so well managed that they have not had a reaction for a long time.
For young teens going through the changes that adolescence brings, it is hard enough, in terms of finding their own identity. But this can become even harder to create a positive personal identity when they are suffering from anxiety due to having food allergies.
They are building their independence, and often don’t want or need the amount of parental support they had during their primary school years. Teenagers want to be in control of their own lives, and don’t always communicate important things to people around them.
For this reason, it is vital they inform their teachers, their friends, and if possible other pupils in their class about their allergies and the risks they face.
Friends and fellow pupils need to:
· Always take allergies seriously, because severe allergies are not a joke.
· Know what to do if someone has an allergic reaction; get help immediately.
· Don’t pressure friends to eat foods they are allergic to.
· Don’t share food with friends who have food allergies.
· Wash their hands after eating, particularly if they have been eating a food they know causes a friend to have an allergic reaction.
How can schools help?
Legislation already exists, (passed in 2014), saying all food businesses, including school caterers, have to show allergen ingredients information for the food they serve.
The Children and Families Act 2014, gives statutory guidance with regards to supporting pupils at school with medical conditions, which includes food allergies.
Teachers are permitted, but not obligated to administer adrenaline auto-injectors (AAI) where they have been prescribed for emergencies.
Secondary pupils should know how to administer their Epi-pens. However, in a survey, a third admitted to not even carrying them.
In 2017, the law was amended, which allows schools to obtain, without prescription, ‘spare’ devices for use in emergencies (however with a shortage of them, who knows if schools are able to do actually do this?)
Many older children prefer to choose their own food and buy it at school, rather than have to take food to school. For this reason, schools need to make sure that children with allergies can safely buy food products at school, without being put at risk.
Make ‘free-from’ part of their healthy snack choices at school. Avoid the scenario where one teenager is constantly denied access to snacks safe for them.
Schools should ensure:
· Catering staff should be made aware of all individual pupil’s allergies and specific dietary requirements.
· All food served in the dining hall should be clearly labelled.
· Clear labelling is in all food areas, such as tuck areas, vending machines, and any cakes bought into school from home to share in class. (Parents sending in cakes, are asked to inform the school of ingredients, i.e. nuts; gluten etc, especially where a class member has food allergies). When in doubt, that food should not be brought into the classroom or shared.
· A range of free-from snacks are available in tuck areas and the school cafeteria, alongside free-from meal options. Teens like to make their own choices in what they
eat, therefore offering a wider range of free-from foods will encourage them to eat safely, and they won’t feel left out when friends are eating snacks.
· All staff should be trained and understand how to administer Epi-pens. Training should be on a regular basis, and staff should also know what symptoms to look for with anaphylaxis. They will have a short time to act so it needs to become muscle memory.
· Other pupils are educated, especially in the year groups where any allergy sufferers are based, and raise awareness and understanding of anaphylaxis symptoms during whole school assemblies.
If you are wondering what it’s like to be an allergic child at school, read the testimony of our CEO Julianne Ponan to get an insight into how isolating it can be http://www.julianneponan.com/blog/
To help you – Allergy UK have produced a support kit for schools to create a practical policy to keep pupil’s safe in their schools.