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Celebrating Attendance Awareness Month with Health Care Providers

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

Health Issues and Absenteeism – Part 4 of 4

In this fourth and final installment of our Attendance Awareness Month series, we shift our focus to lifting up the important connection between health and chronic absence and the role that health care providers can play in addressing health-related absenteeism in schools.

The connections between student health and well-being and academic success are becoming more understood and supported by a growing body of research. Good health is essential for a student’s learning and cognitive ability. Ensuring good health in students can boost attendance and educational achievement.

When students struggle with poor health, they are more likely to be absent from school. Students who are chronically absent miss out on valuable classroom instruction time, making it difficult to keep up academically. Ultimately, these patterns of absence from school can result in students dropping out from school, a factor that has grave consequences on their ultimate health and well-being later in life.

There are many ways in which student health can lead to absenteeism from school. Some of the health issues faced by children and youth that can lead to chronic absenteeism include:*

  • Uninsured students – children without health insurance commonly do not seek medical care, including preventative visits, and do not get prescriptions filled.
  • Asthma – children living in urban minority communities usually have higher and rates of and more severe occurrences of asthma due to limited access to health care and higher exposure to communities where asthma triggers exist.
  • Lead exposure – lead poisoning is a pervasive environmental hazard that exists in many communities and can have serious impacts on major organs like the heart, kidneys, bones and nervous system.
  • Behavioral health issues – Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) struggle with the ability to concentrate and are more likely to exhibit absenteeism; children exposed to violent and aggressive behavior at home or in school may develop mental and behavioral health problems that influence educational outcomes.
  • Food insecurity and nutrition – Food-insecure families often skip meals or rely on nutritionally deficient meals that lead to an increase in poor health.
  • Dental health – children in low-income families are twice as likely to suffer from tooth decay and are more likely to go untreated, leading to an inability to concentrate and an increase in dental-related illnesses.
  • Vision – Vision problems inhibit a student’s ability to read, leading to reduced attendance spans and a reduced ability to keep up with school work and learning.
  • Reproductive health – teen pregnancy is associated with poor educational and economic outcomes; teens who become pregnant are more likely to become chronically absent and ultimately less likely to stay in school and complete school.

Role of health care providers

School nurses, nurse practitioners in school-based health centers and other health professionals are important allies in supporting attendance. They can often help to connect the dots between a student’s absences from school and possible underlying health issues that complicate consistent attendance.

School health professionals can intervene early on by contacting families of chronically absent students and help to identify and address health issues that may be contributing to absenteeism. Often times, parents don’t realize that a complaint about a stomach ache or head ache is not a serious concern that merits a child being kept home from school. Even excused absences that add up to too much time lost in the classroom can cause a child to fall behind. This health flyer offers tips to help families know when they should and should not keep their children home from school due to illness.

School health professionals can also work with school administrators to develop positive interventions that can support and strengthen student attendance as it relates to health issues. Proper and timely health education and access to health resources in schools can support a student’s overall health and well-being.

Attendance Works – a national and state-level initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving success – offers many resources to help health professionals understand the connections between student health and school attendance and empower them to get involved in addressing chronic absenteeism.

Visit the research section of their website to learn more about the connections between health issues and absenteeism. Or access their tools and resources for health care providers, including a helpful handout on why health care providers should care about attendance and what they can do.

And don’t forget to check out the Attendance Awareness Month website to get inspired as to how you can promote attendance in schools and be part of the solution.

* From The State of Chronic Absenteeism and School Health: A Preliminary Review for the Baltimore Community, April 2012, Baltimore Student Attendance Campaign & Elev8 Baltimore, pg 7-12.


Read Part 1 –  Tell Them That Attendance Counts

Read Part 2 – Celebrating Attendance Awareness Month with Parents and Families

Read Part 3 – Celebrating Attendance Awareness Month with Teachers & Schools

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