Previous posts have noted the importance of education in providing young people in OoHC and YJ with a pathway out of the consequences of trauma and poverty (see here, here and here). The problem is getting these young people to attend school.
Given that education is such a pivotal gateway to a better life, I am willing to consider any evidence-based intervention that improves school attendance – even this one that pays teachers to conduct home visits at a rate of $US40 per home visit.
A recent US study investigated a novel way of preventing school refusal – namely, to pay classroom teachers an additional salary to conduct home visits with vulnerable families. This is a significant departure from current models whereby school refusal programs, including home visits, are conducted not by teachers. Instead, this role is typically performed by support workers or case managers.
The rationale for using teachers to work with families
The teacher visiting program may impact school attendance in two ways:
- Better connection with the parents may improve their “school engagement” – the value they place on education for their child and their regard for the school and the teacher.
- Interventions devised and implemented by the teacher in response to early attendance problems may help remove barriers from attendance.
A lack of evidence-based interventions for school refusal/non-attendance programs
The authors provide a succinct overview of the evidence-based programs to reduce school non-attendance, concluding that there are few, if any, evidence-based programs in this area. It is probable that most Australian school non-attendance programs are not evidence-based. This is of concern because, as noted above, education is key to overcoming the impacts of poverty and trauma.
This US study is part of the Early Truancy Prevention Project (ETPP) and included five elementary (i.e. primary) schools in North Carolina. The study uses a randomised control design.
The study compared the impact of the program on unexplained absences between the treatment group and a control group. The outcomes measured were the number of students who were absent for 4+ days, 6+ days and 10+ days per year. In broad terms, the program, compared to the control group, reduced school refusal rates as follows:
- for students who were absent for 4+ days, the reduction was 8.9%
- for students who were absent for 6+ days, the reduction was 10.3%
- for students who were absent for 10+ days, the reduction was 11.9%
Therefore, on average, the program reduced school refusal by about 10%. This may not sound significant, but at a population level it becomes very significant. Moreover, evidence-based interventions in social sciences, when compared to treatment as usual, tend to display an improvement of around 10 percentage points. Again, the benefit is reaped at the population level.
Why this study is important
The study is important because it provides the foundation of an evidence-based approach to school non-attendance. Whilst the study utilises a randomised control design, it is a long way from being considered an evidence-based intervention.
Issues with the study
- The study selectively targets primary school children, thus the impact of such a program on children in higher grades is unknown.
- The study is very ‘American’ (for example, is replete with references to ‘truancy’ and ‘wayward parents’) – language that would be unacceptable in an Australian context.
- Moreover, the idea of paying teachers additional wages for home visits would probably be opposed by school administrators and/or teacher unions.
Rationale for further investigation
Nonetheless, my fundamental proposition is as follows:
- Education is key to overcoming poverty and trauma.
- There are currently few, if any, evidence-based approaches for improving school attendance in OoHC and YJ populations.
- Therefore, it is likely that Australian-based programs are NOT evidence based.
- This program explores the foundations of an evidence-based approach to non-attendance.
- Therefore, it is reasonable for a qualified researcher from Australia to visit the US to further investigate this program and its potential benefits.
 But doing the best that they can in the absence of clearly defined evidenced programs
Cook, P. J., et al. (2017). “A new program to prevent primary school absenteeism: Results of a pilot study in five schools.” Children and Youth Services Review 82: 262-270.