School nurses can play a key role in identifying students who are at risk for chronic absenteeism, according to a new study.

Absenteeism is a growing problem that diminishes academic success, can hurt students’ health, and lead to a variety of negative long-term life outcomes.

The finding could help schools implement assessments and interventions to ultimately better support students who are at risk for frequently missing school.

Nearly 15 million students—roughly one-third of the US student population—were chronically absent during the 2021-22 school year.

While a variety of factors contributed to the absences (family responsibilities, the need to work, academic struggles, and food insecurity, etc.), the coronavirus pandemic, which was happening at the time, widened societal inequities that already existed. For example, nearly 70% of high-poverty schools experienced chronic absenteeism in 2021-22, up from 25% before the pandemic.

Additionally, students with a lack of family support were much less likely to return to school even after many pandemic-related restrictions were lifted.

Previous research has shown that students who miss a lot of school are far more likely to have academic and behavioral challenges, struggle with reading, drop out of school altogether, commit crime, and have worse career outcomes. The new study provides suggestions to reduce these effects.

Knoo Lee, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, previously identified the most common factors linked with chronic school absenteeism. He’s now building on that research to explore the impact of partial day absences and how school nurses are a key touchpoint in identifying students at risk for frequently missing school.

In Lee’s recent study, he learned that students who have many partial-day absences often proactively seek out school nurses as a source of comfort and support—presenting an opportunity for school nurses to intervene and provide support before the absenteeism becomes chronic.

Read the full article about chronic absenteeism and school nurses by Brian Consiglio at Futurity.