April 5th, 2012
The Intersection of Health and Attendance
It’s a catchy slogan “Skip Rope, Not School,” but it underlies a much deeper effort to reduce chronic absenteeism in New York City. The city schools this week announced a partnership with the New York Sports Club, which will not only to provide jump ropes but also low-cost memberships, gym equipment at a Brooklyn High school and fitness programs at middle schools.
Central to partnership is the realization that health issues are among the leading causes of school absenteeism. Some recent research sheds light on what’s ailing our children and how we can prevent such problems.
One recent study published in Child Development this winter shows that not only is there a connection between missed school days and mental health disorders, but that the connection is reciprocal, “wherein the presence of one uniquely increases the risk that the other will emerge or worsen.” For instance, a youth suffering from depression may lack energy and miss school, and as a consequence, risks becoming further isolated and worsening the depression. This, then, leads to more missed days from school.
Recognizing this is a significant step toward preventing both absenteeism and mental health disorders, the study suggests. But how do we do this? The study suggests targeting absenteeism specifically can improve attendance and may prove vital in the prevention of mental health disorders.
Another study explored a key factor to preventing absenteeism: health insurance. According to a study in Santa Clara County, Calif., children who enrolled in the Healthy Kids program – a program which provides health insurance coverage to children otherwise unable to attain it – were sick less and consequently missed less school. “Children missing three or more school days in the past month fell from 11 percent without Healthy Kids to just 5 percent with Healthy Kids,” the report noted.
This initiative has insured more than 80,000 children across California, but the next stage will be expanding this coverage nationwide. Other suggestions include further increasing preventive medical and dental care, and evaluating the results to see if they have a positive correlation with children’s health and consequently, school attendance.
In Baltimore, Elev8 and the Baltimore Student Attendance Initiative are hosting a Chronic Absenteeism and School Health Policy Forum on April 17 to exploring the issues.
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