Allergy is no laughing matter.
Allergic reactions to things like peanuts and cow’s milk can be life-threatening, and if your child is at risk of anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), it’s vital that their child care service or school takes their health and safety seriously.
Historically, blanket bans on certain foods have been used to reduce the chance of children being harmed as they eat, learn and play, but after two years of development, the National Allergy Strategy offers a new approach.
Today, Maria Said, Co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy, CEO of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia and a registered nurse, explains why the Strategy is needed and what it means for families and child care staff.
How common is allergy and anaphylaxis amongst pre-school aged children?
Food allergy affects 10 per cent of babies and four to eight per cent of children aged up to five years of age. While, insect allergy (e.g. an allergy to bee stings or tick bites) affects approximately three per cent of the Australian population and impacts more adults than children.
Food allergy is the most common allergy to cause anaphylaxis in young children.
In Australia, there is currently no register for anaphylaxis and, therefore, we do not have good data regarding how common anaphylaxis is. However, the most recent data indicates that anaphylaxis rates are increasing and are most common in the zero to four-year-old age group.
The National Allergy Strategy sets out best practice guidelines to prevent and manage anaphylaxis in children’s education and care services and schools. Why was the new Strategy needed, and why is it good news for families and educators?
An audit of anaphylaxis guidelines in schools identified inconsistencies across the states and territories in Australia. In addition, a food allergy readiness study conducted in Western Australia, and then in all other states and territories, showed that approximately 25 per cent of long day care centres were not meeting the nationally legislated anaphylaxis training requirements and did not have best-practice strategies in place.
The Guidelines, along with newly developed supporting resources and existing updated resources, provide recommendations for services and schools. They also provide tools to implement the recommendations at an individual service and school level to help the education and care community prevent and manage anaphylaxis.
Instead of banning certain foods, like nuts, the Strategy shifts the focus to an ‘allergy aware’ approach. What strategies are recommended to reduce the risk of anaphylaxis at children’s education and care services?
The strategies recommended to reduce the risk of anaphylaxis at services will vary depending on the food allergies that need to be managed, how many children have allergies, and their ages.
This means that strategies include, but are not limited, to:
- Age-appropriate education of children with and without food allergy
- Training of all staff involved in the care of children with food allergy
- Communication with parents/carers of children with food allergy
- Education of the parent community, and
- Involving parents/carers of children with food allergy on special days as these days are often higher risk (e.g. when there is an incursion, mini-Olympics or Father’s Day event).
Children’s education and care services should conduct a risk assessment (a free template has been developed by the National Allergy Strategy) to identify what the risks are in their individual service and then implement appropriate risk minimisation strategies to address those risks.
A document containing a range of recommended risk minimisation strategies is freely available to help services. This document includes examples of risk minimisation strategies to help manage all severe allergies, not just food allergies.
The new National Allergy Strategy Allergy Aware resource hub contains lots of information to support educators, parents, students and health professionals, and there’s specific information for children’s education and care services here, including links to state- and territory-specific information. This hub also contains links to other evidence-based, best-practice resources from credible organisations.
How can parents and educators work together to keep a child with an allergy safe? And what obligations do children’s education and care services have around allergy?
Everyone in the child care community has a role to play in managing the risk of anaphylaxis.
Parents must provide medical documentation of the child’s allergy and risk of anaphylaxis. Parents should provide a copy of the child’s ASCIA Action Plan, completed by the child’s doctor or nurse practitioner, along with any medication (e.g. an adrenaline injector) their child will need in an emergency. Both the ASCIA Action Plan and medication should be kept current.
The service should meet with the parents at least yearly to discuss appropriate risk minimisation strategies for their child, and it should complete an individualised anaphylaxis health care plan in consultation with the parents.
The service should also ensure that staff are trained in how to prevent, recognise and respond to anaphylaxis. Under the Education and Care Services National Regulations at least one staff member or nominated supervisor at a centre must have current approved anaphylaxis management training, and ASCIA anaphylaxis e-training for children’s education and care services and schools is a free online course.
All staff who prepare, serve and supervise meals, should also undertake food allergen management training, and All about Allergens free online training has been developed by the National Allergy Strategy.
It’s also important that the child care community supports the service’s risk minimisation strategies and policies regarding anaphylaxis management.
The Allergy Aware resource hub contains trusted information to help care-givers prevent and manage anaphylaxis. Where else can we find quality resources, advice and support?
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, is a national support organisation that helps people with allergy and anaphylaxis, and those caring for them, and there’s lots of practical information at www.allergyfacts.org.au
Parents and child care staff can also reach out for help by emailing email@example.com or calling 1300 728 000.