Dear Prime Minister,
I'm writing to you today as it's children's mental health week, and feels like an appropriate time to do so.
Allow me to introduce myself.
I'm Reneé Davis. I'm a wife and mum of three, and also the survivor of a dysfunctional childhood. I was failed by the education system in the nineties, and left school at 15 with no qualifications. I was also bullied throughout school, so know first hand how much damage it does to one's mental health.
My eldest daughter Polly was diagnosed high functioning autistic in 2015. So far my two younger children appear to be neuro typical, but I don't have a crystal ball. Who knows if further diagnoses are on the cards later on down the line?
Sending Polly to school weeks after her fourth birthday in 2013 felt like throwing her into the lions den. She suffered low level bullying from the end of reception, and all throughout year one. This along with the ridiculously high expectations of learning were too much. Polly lived in a perpetual state of anxiety, and her pre and post school meltdowns dominated the happiness of the whole family.
You see she's a classic high functioning autistic girl
She is able to convincingly mask her autism, and appears to cope in public. All the pretending to cope is exceptionally overwhelming for her. It got to the point where she would come home, where she felt safe, and spend up to two hours screaming. This was her way of communicating to us that she was unhappy at school, and wasn't coping as well as she appeared to be.
After her diagnosis we thought we'd get support from the school, but none materialised. Perhaps if she had been subjecting her teachers to huge meltdowns things would have been different? Weeks after going back to school after the holidays in 2015, and our lives had once again become soul destroyingly hard. My husband and I knew that if we wanted different results, we were going to have to take matters into our own hands.
We made the decision to home educate Polly
It's not been an easy ride, but in the fifteen months that Polly's been at home, we've made great progress. In addition to her core learning, we've invested a huge amount of effort in rebuilding her confidence, and fostering emotional intelligence. She is finally, at seven and a half, sleeping most nights. She is more patient, calmer and happier than ever before.
Now, no two children are the same, and this is especially pertinent in a neuro diverse family such as mine. My other daughter, Clara has always been laid back and mostly happy. For many reasons, my husband and I made the decision to send Clara to school in September. We figured that being such an easy going kid, as well as being super bright, she would flourish.
Clara loved the first few weeks of school, but sadly it didn't last
When she returned after the first half term, things changed for her. She wasn't so happy about going to school in the mornings, and has a few times, point blank refused to go in at all. She started having meltdowns after school, like her sister used to. She broke out in the same stress eczema that my husband gets on his hands when he is bogged down at work.
The decline in our girl has been shocking to witness. She's become highly sensitive, aggressive and inflexible. It's as clear as day to me that she's seriously overwhelmed. She has little patience, and gets very upset very quickly, over things that wouldn't have mattered to her six months ago. Just last week she shut herself off from the rest of us by hiding behind the furniture, and screaming for over an hour, because she wasn't doing her writing 'perfectly'.
It is ludicrous to expect four year old children to learn to read and write (in joined up handwriting)
I can't imagine that I'm the only one who feels this way, but also know from experience that there's a lot of turning a blind eye us parents have to do. My husband and I weren't always in a financial position for me to stay at home with our children. In fact I only stopped working in my part time City job weeks before we began home educating Polly. I consider myself lucky to have the option of staying at home.
If I had financial pressure to go back to an office based job, we would be, to put it bluntly, screwed.
The school system has already failed one of my children, and it's beginning to look like it's failing another
Seeing the change in Clara has been utterly heartbreaking. It feels to me that our children's mental health is being sacrificed for the schools numeracy and literacy statistics. That all the emphasis is put onto their academic capabilities, and very little thought is given to their emotional well-being. It pains me to watch my happy go lucky ray of sunshine turn into an anxious wreck.
Surely at four and five, it makes more sense to invest in our children's mental health? Wouldn't it be better to let them learn through play, rather than forcing them to read and write?
I have signed this petition to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools. It currently has over 34,000 signatures (100,000 signatures would secure a parliamentary debate).
At this point, Mrs. May, anything is worth a shot, which is why I've written you this letter. To ask you personally to put our children's mental health on your agenda.