“I’m not going and you can’t make me!” – how to support children and young people with emotionally based school avoidance (recording)

Matt Kempen
Marketing Manager for ACAMH

Posted on

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in referrals to CAMHS for young people struggling to attend school. Young people can present with significant distress and family relationships may become strained. It can be challenging for CAMHS professionals to know how to support young people and their families. This half-day session provided a useful overview of current research and practical tips for clinicians.


Fiona Stiff

Dr. Mollie Higgins

Dr. Jerricah Holder

Dr. Rachel Sawyer

Key learning takeaways

  • Increased your understanding of factors that contribute to emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA)
  • Get helpful tips for supporting young people with EBSA
  • Hear about a parents experience of having a child with EBSA
  • Gain a greater awareness of the needs of Autistic CYP with EBSA


13:00 Welcome for ACAMH North West Branch Chair Dr. Mark Bowers
13:05 Dr. Jerricah Holder – Making sense of Emotionally Based School Avoidance
13:50 Dr. Mollie Higgins – The needs of Autistic CYP who experience EBSA
14:20 Break
14:40 Dr. Rachel Sawyer – Parents experience of EBSNA: A solution-based exploration into successful reintegration.
15:10 Fiona Stiff –  A parent’s perspective
15:30 Panel discussion
16:00 Close

About the talks

Dr. Jerricah Holder – Making sense of Emotionally Based School Avoidance
Through this keynote, Dr Jerricah Holder will provide an introduction to Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) and key psychological models essential to understanding the needs of children who find it difficult and distressing to attend school. Moving away from the language of school refusal and with increased emphasis on a more compassionate and child-centred approach, Dr Jerricah Holder will share her ‘Integrated Model of EBSA’ enabling school staff, health and social care colleagues to develop a greater understanding of the complex and often multi-faceted aspects of school avoidance behaviours. The child perspective will be integrated throughout the training, with videos of children sharing their journey of EBSA.

Key learning objectives

  • An introduction to key psychological models of Emotionally Based School Avoidance
  • Exploration of terminology and why we are no longer using the term ‘school refusal’
  • Presentation of an alternative model, the ‘Integrated Model of EBSA’
  • Increased understanding of the complex and often multi-faceted nature of school avoidance behaviours

Dr. Mollie Higgins – The Ideal School: Exploring the views of autistic students experiencing school attendance difficulties

Autistic individuals are more likely to experience school attendance difficulties and the current research explored the type of school environment that would support their attendance. Autistic individuals are often overlooked within research, due to assumptions that their social communication difficulties will impact their participation. This research therefore aimed to give autistic young people a voice and ensure their views and opinions were valued and amplified.

This presentation will describe the use of a ‘Drawing the Ideal School’ activity as an alternative method of data collection. The approach is based on Personal Construct Psychology and provides the opportunity for participants to share their views through drawing alongside talking, whilst taking into account their social communication differences. Attendees will gain an insight into the ‘Drawing the Ideal School’ technique and may consider how to use this approach in their practice with autistic students.

The presentation will describe the key themes relating to the ideal and non-ideal type of school that students would like to attend. Attendees will learn about the type of school environment that supports attendance for autistic young people. In addition, there will be opportunities to consider ways of adapting our practice to support autistic young people who are experiencing attendance difficulties, both within individual work and through work with the systems and networks surrounding young people.

Key learning objectives

  • To understand the link between autism and school attendance difficulties
  • To gain an understanding of the Drawing the Ideal School approach
  • To recognise the key features of an ideal school environment for autistic students
  • To recognise ways of adapting current practice to support autistic students

Dr. Rachel Sawyer – Parents experience of EBSNA: A solution-based exploration into successful reintegration
Emotionally-based school non-attendance (EBSNA) is believed to impact one-two percent of children and young people (CYP), presenting as ‘severe emotional upset at the prospect of attending school’ (Berg et al., 1969). The aim of this study was to further understand parental experiences of EBSNA which the aim of enhancing professional understanding and support in this area. Adopting a ‘solution-oriented’ approach, this research gathered retrospective experiences of successful EBSNA support, aiming to uncover ‘what works’ when supporting children and families experiencing this difficulty. Participants completed semi-structured interviews (n=5), and transcripts were analysed using ‘Reflexive Thematic Analysis’ (Braun & Clarke, 2021). The resulting themes provided insights into different forms of support accessed by parents, identifying potential areas for improvement arising from their experiences of challenge and successes, as well as lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic. The themes (Supporting Parents; Promoting CYP’s Sense of Belonging; Including and Informing Parents; Raising Awareness of EBSNA; Accessing External Professionals; Lessons Learnt from Covid) have been presented as a framework for professional practice (SPIRAL), which has practical implications for schools and local authorities in providing support to both CYP and parents experiencing EBSNA. Recommendations for future research are also discussed, informing developments across multiple systems, and highlighting the potential of the EP role.

Key learning objectives

  • To understand the purpose, background and rationale behind the current research.
  • To understand key findings that resulted from this study.
  • To consider how these findings can inform professional practice in future.

Fiona Stiff –  A parent’s view – The price of Education
What are the barriers to our educational system and how the toll is too high a price to pay for too many of our children. Fiona will share her experience of being a parent of a young person with EBSA. She will provide helpful tips for clinicians, from a parent’s perspective. Each child will offer a unique set of circumstances leading to their inability to attend school, what I will talk about are the challenges experienced by that of family and others I know and how they can be improved with the right kind of support.

Learning objectives

  • To help recognise how and why our current educational system is failing too many of our children.
  • To help build awareness of the challenges faced by families advocating for children who are struggling.
  • To promote intentional and proactive discussions on how these challenges can be removed or improved upon.
  • To offer to anyone looking to improve the system, my consultation and experience from a parental view of two children with SEN and a lived experience of “School Avoidance”.

About the speakers

Jerricah Holder

Dr. Jerricah Holder is an experienced Educational Psychologist, trainer and author of the School Wellbeing Cards. She has extensive experience of working with individual children alongside their family and school settings to increase resilience in school attendance, as well as developing more systemic approaches to EBSA that shift the focus onto early identification and intervention

Dr. Mollie Higgins is a HCPC registered Child and Educational Psychologist. Mollie works in a Schools and Community Psychology Service and in an Autism Advisory Service, providing consultation and training for parents, carers, schools and professionals and offering individual and group therapeutic work for autistic individuals. Mollie is skilled in supporting autistic young people using a neurodiversity-affirming approach and provides support to understand their diagnosis, explore thinking patterns and identify their unique profile of strengths and needs. In addition, Mollie is passionate about using a systemic approach to support children and young people experiencing school attendance difficulties and ensuring their voices are heard.

Rachel Sawyer

Dr. Rachel Sawyer is a local authority educational psychologist with a professional interest in supporting parents and young people experiencing ’emotionally-based school avoidance’. Her thesis research focused on the experiences of parents with a ‘solution-oriented’ lens to determine ‘what works’ when addressing EBSA-based difficulties, and how professional practice can be informed by these voices. Other professional interests include the ELSA programme, supporting anxiety and mental health needs, as well as developing research that informs EP practice at both an individual and organisational level.

Fiona Stiff

Fiona Stiff is a Development Officer for Common Change UK and Child Care Provider and the parent of a young person who has experienced emotionally based school avoidance. Formerly working in media, Fiona entered into Child Care after her eldest child was identified ASC.



Hi is it still possible to purchase this recording?


I was on this session, but can’t seem to access it?
Do I have to be registered?

Matt Kempen

Hi Lynn
I’ll drop you an email with the access code

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