Six Causes—and Solutions—for Chronic Absenteeism

Use these resources to ensure kids are coming to school every day.

September, 2016, Volume 40, Issue 1

Between five and seven and a half million children in the U.S. are chronically absent each year. According to new research by the Ad Council, 86 percent of parents agree that attendance plays a big role in their child graduating from high school, but nearly half believe missing three or more days of school per month won’t have a significant impact on their child’s academic performance.

Absences Add Up, created by the U.S. Department of Education, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and The Ad Council, showcases this research in a new, public service campaign designed to curb chronic absenteeism in schools. It offers a multitude of tips and resources for combatting absenteeism, whether you’re a teacher, community leader, or mentor.


The campaign website also addresses common problems that contribute to chronic absenteeism, and offers solutions to parents and stakeholders. Here are six reasons kids are missing school, and ways families can help their children in the classroom:

1. Bad grades
Struggling in class can be demoralizing for students, and leaves them wondering whether it’s worth going to school in the first place. However, a little bit of effort at home can go a long way. Whether it’s free tutoring, mentoring, or afterschool learning programs, there are multitudes of ways to inspire confidence in students, and help them feel that more welcome in the classroom.

2. Bullying
Though academic difficulties are problematic, for many students, bullying can make school feel unsafe, both physically and emotionally. Recognizing the signs of bullying is an important step for teachers and parents alike. And while children can be reluctant to talk about bullying they’re experiencing, there are plenty of resources, even apps, that offer tips on how to have these kinds of conversations.

3. Illness
When most people think of absences, calling in sick is probably what comes to mind. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but there are ways families can minimize illness-related absences and ensure their child still gets the education they deserve. Good health is essential to a child’s well-being, so encouraging good diet and exercise. When students do feel unwell, it’s worth it for families to ask whether their child is too sick to go to school.

4. Caring for another family member
Whether it’s a younger sibling, a grandparent, or someone with special healthcare needs, oftentimes students are spending time helping their family instead of being at school. It’s a tough choice students and families shouldn’t have to make, but there are ways of easing the burden caregiving places on families. There are resources to help locate eldercare services, affordable or even free childcare, and even planned or emergency care.

5. Mental or emotional health issues
Mental and emotional health issues can be a perfectly valid reason for missing school. But it’s important for families to work with schools so students can move forward, as extended absences can exacerbate both academic and emotional problems. Families should understand the range of a child’s emotions and behaviors that might not entail missing school, and understand how to identify and help children through more serious mental health issues when they do arise.

6. Difficulties with housing or food
When a family is worried about whether their child has enough food on their plate or a roof over their head, school can be a secondary consideration. If these challenges are preventing students from coming to school, educators should make a concerted effort to point families in the right direction to alleviate these burdens. The National Center for Homeless Education offers parents ways to ensure their kids are still able to learn while experiencing homelessness. 2-1-1 can offer essential information on how families can meet food and housing needs.


Don’t hesitate to share this information and the resources with those who need it. Additionally, the latest issue of Report to Parents, which focuses on attendance, offers families useful information on keeping kids in school.

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