It’s no secret; chronic truancy is detrimental to student achievement. Students who do not attend school regularly are more likely to not do well academically, or even drop out of school all together. A shocking statistic unveils more than 6.5 million US children, about 13% of all students, miss 15 days or more each year. This doesn’t just apply to middle school and high school. The American Academy of Pediatrics states “at least 10 percent of kindergarten and first-grade students miss a month or more of the school year, while about 19 percent of all high school students are chronically absent.”
There are many factors that contribute to high chronic absenteeism. Children who are exposed to major trauma such as domestic violence, have recently experienced a natural disaster, or have a history of maltreatment are more likely to experience absenteeism. AAP explains “these children are also more likely to experience other risk factors for chronic absenteeism, including poor mental and behavioral health, poor health outcomes, poverty, homelessness, and frequent school changes.”
Poor health seems to be a large factor in chronic absenteeism. A study in central Texas by the Austin-based E3 Alliance “found that 52 percent of absences were due to chronic or acute illness. By contrast, skipping school accounted for 5 percent.” Luckily, educators has a new partner to help with the growing truancy problem; pediatricians. There is strong evidence showing physical and mental health interventions are helping to improve student attendance.
How Pediatricians Can Help Reduce Truancy
- Emphasize the value of developing good school attendance habits from an early age.
- When children and their parents come in, pediatricians are also encouraged ask about the number of school days missed within the month during every visit.
- Document children's medical needs for an Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan when needed for access to services that optimize learning opportunities.
- Encourage parents and families to share any and all health concerns with the school nurse on staff.
- Give guidance on when students should stay home from school and when they should not. For example: Lice is not a reason to stay home from school.
- When the absence is not appropriate, do not write absence excuses.
- Always have children return to school when their appointment shows they are well enough.
- Work with K-12 schools to promote and advocate policies that promote school attendance.
Four Health Strategies from AAP
AAP also put together several strategies that K-12 schools can implement to promote school attendance and tackle chronic absenteeism through healthcare.
- Infection Prevention
Absenteeism isn’t always a malicious way to get out of school work as many students fall sick during the school year forcing them to miss school. Schools are known to be a source of many wide-spread illnesses such as common colds and influenza. Hand hygiene interventions are one way schools are working to battle truancy. Promoting the use of hand sanitizers and hand-washing helped with reducing sicknesses. According to AAP, “in addition to studies of hand hygiene interventions, school-located influenza vaccination programs have been shown to reduce school absenteeism during influenza season.”
- School Nurses
Having a full-time school nurse on staff plays a significant role when it comes to student attendance. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Association of School Nurses recommend a minimum of 1 full-time professional school nurse in every school, recognizing that the ideal nurse-to-student ratio varies depending on the needs of the student population”.
- School-Based Health Centers
According to AAP, a school-based health center provides health services to students who may have been sent home or missed school because of illnesses and injuries or attending medical appointments for management of chronic health problems. These health centers include care for dental services, preventative services, mental services, and behavioral health services.
- Mental Health Care
In a recent blog post we covered the importance of educators looking out for mental health concerns among their students. As K-12 schools are the place young people spend the majority of their days, educators are the first line of defense. Schools play an important role in identifying early warning signs, addressing mental health concerns, and providing help and care.
Not everything is black and white. Chronic truancy and absenteeism have many influencers and healthcare is only one of them. Whether a student is experiencing extreme anxiety about being in school, or has fallen ill and caught a bad stomach bug, missing school has extreme effects on student success and graduation rates.
Alert Solutions works with K-12 schools and districts across the country to help reduce chronic truancy. Schools using SwiftK12, our school notification system, send out automated attendance alerts notifying parents and guardians on whether their child is in school. These alerts not only help increase parent communication, but they also save hours of time for school staff each day, and most importantly, have been known to help increase student attendance rates.
Download our Reducing Chronic Truancy Guide for helpful tips, tricks, and strategies to battle absenteeism.