Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will add his weight to the launch of a national campaign on Monday to help families of the 60,000 Australian children who miss classes at school while being treated for a serious illness.
The campaign will kick off at Parliament House in Canberra, led by three Canberra mothers whose children have been treated in Sydney for life-threatening illnesses.
In a remarkable coincidence, the children were all treated in the Turnbull Ward of the Sydney Children's Hospital.
The women have formed Missing School Inc to push for leadership by the federal, state and territory governments to make sure seriously ill children remain connected to their schools while being treated in hospital.
Co-founder, Megan Gilmour of Hawker, said the lack of systematic support in schools left families trying to do it all on their own or relying on the goodwill of individual teachers.
"We want to see this started as a national conversation and not just something that would be nice to do," she told Fairfax Media.
"What we found was that no agency in Australia is actually counting these children and we had to estimate the number of kids who were affected.
"This issue is not being adequately addressed by state and territory education systems."
The standards of schools in major hospitals varied widely, she said.
The group will release the first comprehensive report into the challenges facing children who miss school due to significant injury or illness.
The report by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth estimates 60,000 sick children miss school in Australia every year.
It recommends a system of counting these children and knowing where they are, maintaining dedicated two-way teacher contact and instruction and peer contact during the absence, and using technology to provide real-time virtual participation in the regular classroom.
CEO Dr Dianne Jackson said advances in medical technology meant more children were surviving illnesses that were previously incurable and unmanageable.
"Seriously sick kids need access to quality education if they are to have the same opportunities as other children and young people to fulfil their potential," she said.
National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell said tens of thousands of students face disadvantage because they miss school as a result of significant illness or injury.
"Academic achievement may be affected, school relationships can be disrupted, motivation and engagement diminished, and isolation from the school community and peer group can have a profound effect on social and emotional wellbeing," she said.
"These reports will help us understand what's happening and how we can best address the challenges that students face.
"But much more work is needed. We need to extend our research and ensure we work collaboratively with policymakers, professionals from the medical and education sectors and, most importantly, the students and their families."
In his message of support for the launch, Mr Turnbull says many young people suffer conditions that take them away from school.
"Maintaining a connection with peers and friends during such times can be crucial for a student's social and emotional wellbeing, while continuing academic progress is important for long-term commitment to learning," he says.
"I commend everyone here today for your dedication to improving outcomes for children who miss school due to significant illness or injury.
"You are doing a wonderful job in raising awareness of this issue, as well as bringing hope and encouragement to many young Australians, their families and carers. For that, you have my admiration and thanks.
"I wish the organisers and attendees of today's event all the best as you continue this great work."
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