Behavioral Health, Mental Health, Substance Abuse
Demographic and psychiatric differences within a clinical sample of chronic absent youth.
(School of Public Health (UMD) Family Science Doctoral Student)
Public Health Significance Missing a significant number of school days is a substantial problem for youth in the United States. Chronic absenteeism is associated with a host of negative academic and social outcomes, and is a risk factor for increases in violence, substance use, family conflict, social alienation, and psychiatric disorders. Understanding the differences that exist within this population on the individual and family level allows for the development of more effective interventions. Objectives Researchers often separate chronically absent youth into two distinct groups: those that avoid school because of anxiety, referred to as school refusers, and those whose absenteeism is understood as a behavior or conduct issue, often called truant youth. The purpose of this study was to identify and explore the differences between these two groups in a clinical sample enrolled in an intensive, in-home family intervention for youth with emotional disturbance. Approach We analyzed qualitative and quantitative data from families to identify all chronically absent youth and further identify two unique groups: those whose families identified school attendance as a central issue and those whose families did not. We hypothesized the former group would be similar to traditional school refusers, and the latter group akin to truant youth. Differences between the two groups with regards to key demographics, psychopathology, and school functioning, and treatment outcomes were explored. Findings The family-recognized absent group was significantly older (m= 14.8) than the family unrecognized group (m=13.2, p < .00). The recognized group was more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder while the unrecognized group was more likely to carry a behavioral diagnosis. No difference in prevalence of mood or trauma disorders was observed. The unrecognized group showed a statistically significant reduction in school absences during treatment, on average 19.5 days (p < .00). Conclusions The method of identifying two unique groups of chronically absent youth was successful. Both groups missed a significant amount of school. It appears that chronic absenteeism is more easily reversible when youths present with behavioral diagnosis, which underscores the importance of understanding the kind of absenteeism a child suffers from.