Earlier this month we joined with the American Academy of Pediatrics on a webinar about the role health care providers have in helping reduce chronic absenteeism.
The webinar, Improving Children’s Health By Attending to Attendance, offered an example of a pediatrician talking about attendance with a young patient, practical steps for health care providers about addressing chronic absence with individual patients, and research showing how hand hygiene, vaccine programs and other school strategies reduce health-related absences.
Sponsored by AAP’s Council on School Health, the November 7 webinar reviewed highlights from AAP’s policy statement, The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health. Speakers included Hedy Chang, executive director, Attendance Works, and Mandy Allison, associate director of pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
The webinar provides key lessons for health care providers and educators. The speakers:
- Defined chronic absenteeism and described its scope and impact on child health and academic success.
- Walked viewers through health-related (both physical and emotional) causes of chronic absenteeism and identified real-life, evidence-based interventions that can be implemented in clinic or private practice to address these causes.
- Identified steps that child health providers can take to address chronic absenteeism in their practice or community.
The AAP statement is an incredible example of how schools and health providers can address chronic absence, Chang said during the webinar. “We know that health reasons are the number one reason cited for excused absences from school but just because it is a health reason doesn’t mean health absences can’t be prevented,” Chang said.
That is why doctors are key to addressing absences. Doctors, who often have relationships with families, can be the extra set of eyes and ears that find what might be causing chronic absence. The information in the AAP statement and the webinar provide pediatricians with what they need to address chronic agencies on an individual level but also on a systems level, Chang said.
Many pediatricians are not clear about why or how they should prioritize chronic absence, considering the many things health care providers must cover in their clinical practice. The webinar offered health care providers this challenge: To consider school attendance as the 6th vital sign, said Heidi Schumacher, who moderated the webinar. For many patients and their families, talking about student absences allows pediatricians to unearth health or social-emotional concerns that pediatricians are well-suited to address, but they may not have otherwise heard about, said Schumacher, who directs health & wellness programs in the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
Allison presented a case study, based on her personal practice, of Jane (not her real name), an 11-year-old who arrived in Allison’s office complaining of regular vomiting that was keeping her home from school. After hearing that the Jane was out of school mid-week, Allison asked questions.
“Asking about attendance really helped me understand some issues about Jane and her family that I may not have heard about or may not have brought up,” Allison said during the webinar. Asking about why she was not going to school helped me to discuss her concerns about bullying, transportation and housing, she added.