Alberta schools 'lagging' behind other provinces in support for diabetic children, Diabetes Canada warns

Children with Type 1 diabetes are being put at risk of long-term complications and emergencies because Alberta is “lagging” behind other provinces and lacks standardized care in schools, Diabetes Canada warns.

Right now it’s up to individual schools and school boards to figure out how to deal with children who have the chronic disease.

“Currently, we are lagging,” said Scott McRae, regional director of Alberta for Diabetes Canada.

According to McRae, provinces such as B.C., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have clear policies in place. But despite years of efforts, Alberta still does not have mandatory standardized care.

diabetes school standard policy

Eight-year-old Cali has to test her blood sugars up to 10 times a day. After her initial diagnosis, her parents struggled to teach school officials the importance of testing and the dangers of low blood sugars. (Jennifer Lee/CBC News)

The group says without proper support in school, children with Type 1 diabetes are at risk of long-term complications and emergency situations.

“We need to urgently make this happen. There’s absolutely no reason to accept the fact that a child can go into a school in 2017 and not have their chronic disease taken care of in a medically appropriate fashion,” said McRae.

Families feel unsafe

The situation is so uncoordinated and unpredictable, that some families are living in fear.

Maureen Topp’s daughter, Cali, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just six years old. 

“We were pretty exhausted already so to have to climb another hill to get management and support in place at school, it was really overwhelming,” said Topp.

After Cali was released from hospital and cleared by doctors to return to school, it took a month before her school in Cochrane was prepared to take her back.

“At the time it was very haphazard,” said Topp, who spent months fighting to get appropriate care for her daughter.

diabetes school standard alberta

Maureen Topp says the care her daughter is receiving at school a year and a half after her diagnosis is much improved. She’s hoping a provincial standard will prevent other families from going through the same worry and frustration hers did. (Jennifer Lee/CBC News)

Topp says initially school walks were off limits and field trips were only allowed if a parent was present. There was confusion about blood sugar testing and,to this day, no staff members will provide Cali with insulin injections. Topp has changed jobs, in part, to be close to the school and help out with her daughter’s care.

All this has left Cali with anxiety.

“She didn’t want to go to school anymore because  she didn’t feel safe,” said Topp. “So as a parent you feel really guilty.”

Education for teachers, staff

According to Diabetes Canada roughly one out of every 300 students has diabetes, meaning many schools have at least one child living with the disease.

The group wants staff at all Alberta schools educated about diabetes management, regardless of whether a child with the disease is enrolled or not.

It’s calling for two staff members to be trained in the administration of an emergency drug to treat hypoglycemia — a condition in which blood sugars can drop dangerously low. Advocates also want a teacher or school aid trained to administer insulin and blood glucose tests, if requested by parents.

“It would take a huge amount of weight off the parents. We don’t want our parents to be sending kids to school in fear, ” said McRae.

diabetes canada alberta school standard

Scott McRae, regional director with Diabetes Canada, says some parents are forced to quit their jobs so they are available to go into schools to administer insulin and blood sugar tests when schools refuse. (Jennifer Lee/CBC News)

Province working with parents, teachers

Education Minister David Eggen is not committing to a provincial standard, but a spokesperson for the department says Eggen met recently with Diabetes Canada and members of the Canadian Pediatric Society, who are also advocating for change.

“We need to keep working with teachers and parents to get it right when supporting students with diabetes,”  the department said in a statement. ”We are working with partners and school boards to identify the best way to proceed.”

For Topp, who worries for other families going through a diagnosis, a standard of care for Type 1 diabetes can’t come soon enough.

“I feel like it’s really poor that it depends on what school your child goes to as to how safe they are if they are a Type 1 diabetic.”

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